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Israeli strike kills senior Hamas figure in Beirut, raising fears of expanding conflict

Israeli strike in Beirut kills Hamas' No. 2 political leader, heightening risk of Middle East conflict. Hezbollah vows retaliation. Israel remains focused.

An Israeli strike in Beirut killed Hamas' No. 2 political leader, marking a significant escalation in Israel's war against the militant group and increasing the risk of a wider Middle East conflict. Saleh Arouri, the most senior Hamas figure killed since the war began, was also a founder of the group's military wing. His death could provoke major retaliation by Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah militia.

The strike hit an apartment in a building in a Shiite district of Beirut that is a Hezbollah stronghold. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has vowed to strike back against any Israeli targeting of Palestinian officials in Lebanon. Tensions between Hezbollah and the Israeli military have been escalating, with almost daily exchanges of fire over the Israeli-Lebanese border since Israel's military campaign in Gaza began nearly three months ago.

The killing comes ahead of a visit to the region by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as the United States has repeatedly warned Hezbollah and Iran not to escalate the violence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue the assault in Gaza until Hamas is crushed and the more than 100 hostages still held by the group are freed, which he has said could take several more months.

Israel has been conducting a campaign in Gaza that has killed over 21,900 people, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. The campaign has driven 85% of Gaza's population from their homes and left a quarter of Gaza residents facing starvation, according to the United Nations. Israel has announced plans to withdraw several thousand troops from Gaza in the coming weeks, but Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has stated that Israel is not planning on halting the war without a clear victory.

Fighting has continued in Gaza, with reports of heavy airstrikes and artillery shelling in various areas. Israel is also facing charges of genocide from South Africa at the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Israel has decided to respond to the charge, signaling concern about potential damage to its reputation. The genocide charge strikes at the heart of Israel's national identity, as the country sees itself as a security for Jews after the Holocaust. Israeli officials have accused South Africa of giving political and legal cover to Hamas, and have vowed to appear before the International Court of Justice to dispel the "absurd blood libel."

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