Killing of senior Hamas leader in Lebanon heightens fears Gaza war is spreading beyond enclave

January 03, 2024, Lebanon, Beirut: The damaged office of Hamas that was attacked by Israel on January 2, killing Palestinian leader Saleh al-Aruri and six others shown through shattered windows in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Photo: Marwan Naamnai/dpa (Photo by Marwan Naamnai/image alliance via Getty Images)

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The killing of senior Hamas leader Saleh al-Aruri in the Lebanese capital Beirut has fueled fears that the war in Gaza could spread beyond the Palestinian enclave.

Al-Aruri, the deputy political head of Hamas, was killed on Tuesday along with six other members of the Palestinian militant group after his home in southern Beirut was reportedly targeted by a drone strike.

Lebanon claimed Israel was responsible for the blast and accused Israel of trying to drag Beirut into a regional war.

Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack, while an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is described as a “surgical” strike on Hamas, rather than an attack on Lebanon.

An Israeli military spokesman said it was “very prepared for any scenario” after al-Arouri’s killing.

Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, a British think tank, said on Wednesday that the strike in Beirut had certainly increased the risk of opening another front in the Israel-Hamas war.

“This attack, which is believed to be clearly attributed to the Israeli government, could lead to a more decisive response by Hezbollah,” Vakil told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe.”

“And I think that’s what the Israeli government is trying to achieve: To push Hezbollah into a wider war but also to demonstrate that its intention to go after the wider leadership of Hamas everywhere is indeed living up to reality.”

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Vakil said, however, that Hezbollah was unlikely to try to respond to the blast in Beirut in a meaningful way, adding that the Lebanese militant group was “much more cautious as an entity.” The drone strike, he added, appeared to show Hezbollah’s weakness and Israel’s military intelligence.

“Looking at this attack, but more broadly, the goals of the Israeli government and its [Israeli Defense Forces] they will try to weaken all proxies in the region in order to strengthen Israel’s security after October 7,” Vakil said.

An Israeli government spokesman did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

The United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon said on Wednesday it was deeply concerned about a possible escalation of violence, Reuters reported, citing a spokesman who warned it would have devastating consequences for both Israel and Lebanon.

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