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The influential leader of Lebanese militant group Hizbollah on Wednesday warned Israel that it would retaliate following the killing of a senior Hamas leader in Beirut, saying the “crime” will “not go unpunished”.
Hassan Nasrallah vowed revenge in a televised speech just 24 hours after Saleh al-Arouri, Hamas’s deputy political leader, died in an explosion in Beirut, which Lebanon’s prime minister, Hizbollah and Hamas blamed on Israel.
“What happened yesterday in Dahiyeh is very dangerous,” Nasrallah said, referring to the neighbourhood in Beirut’s southern suburbs that his Iran-backed group tightly controls.
He added it was “the first time something like this has happened since 2006”, referring to when Hizbollah fought a devastating 34-day war against Israel.
Tensions between Israel and Lebanon’s most powerful political and paramilitary force, which is allied to Hamas, have been running high since the Palestinian militant group’s deadly assault on the Jewish state on October 7. Israel responded with an intense air and ground offensive in Gaza.
Since then, there have been repeated bouts of cross-border fire involving Israeli soldiers and Hizbollah fighters, and these have intensified in recent weeks.
Despite the near-daily clashes, Israel and Hizbollah have avoided being drawn into a full-blown conflict amid intense diplomatic efforts by the US and other countries to prevent an escalation.
But the killing of Arouri in the heart of a Hizbollah-controlled area of Beirut — the first strike to hit the Lebanese capital since the start of the Israel-Hamas war — has significantly raised the stakes.
The death of Arouri, one of the founders of Hamas’s military wing, is a big blow to the group and highlights Israel’s determination to pursue its top leaders.
Israel has not admitted involvement in Arouri’s death. But David Barnea, head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, said on Wednesday that it was “committed to settling accounts” with everyone involved in the October 7 assault, regardless of how long it takes or where they are based.
Nasrallah’s speech stressed the lengths Hizbollah would go to if Israel were to widen its war into Lebanon.
“If the enemy thinks that it can wage war against Lebanon, our combat will be without boundaries, without rules. We are not afraid of a war. Those who think they can go to war with us . . . will regret it. It will cost them dearly.”
Nasrallah also underlined the ties between different factions in the so-called axis of resistance, backed by Iran, which opposes Israel.
“The resistance organisations operate independently of each other, each in its own country. We consult with each other, but each one makes decisions based on its interests and those of its population.”
Nasrallah’s speech was scheduled to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani by the US.
On Wednesday, nearly 100 people were killed in twin bomb blasts at a ceremony marking his death in the southern Iranian city of Kerman — attacks that Nasrallah said “were targeted”.
He said he would speak in more detail on Friday.
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