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Israel prepares for escalation as fighting continues in Gaza


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FDD's Long War Journal

Seth Frantzman

January 3, 2024

The Israel Defense Forces were on a “high state of readiness in all arenas,” IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said on the evening of January 2, after deputy Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri was killed in Beirut that day. Even though Arouri — a key leader of Hamas — resided abroad, he has been described as an “architect” of the October 7 attack on Israel.

Israel did not take responsibility for eliminating Arouri, and Hezbollah said the killing of Arouri would not go unpunished. “We are highly prepared for any scenario. The most important thing to say tonight is that we are focused and remain focused on fighting Hamas,” Hagari said in the wake of the killing.

Arouri spent years in the spotlight due to his involvement in attacks on Israel. He resided in Beirut where he was killed, after having previously lived in Turkey and Qatar. Born in 1966 near Ramallah, he spent many years in Israeli prison for terrorist activities before being released in 2010. In early September 2023, he met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah in Lebanon, a symbol of his coordination with other Iran-backed groups. In August, Arouri’s support for terrorism was highlighted at a cabinet meeting when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “whoever backs terrorism will pay the full price.”

As Israel prepared for escalation on other borders, the IDF continued to operate in Gaza on January 2 and 3. This included fighting in Khan Yunis and also in the area of Khirbet Khuza’a near the Israeli border. The IDF said on January 3 that forces encountered terrorists in Khirbet Khuza’a who had tried to plant an explosive on a tank. The IDF said troops called in an airstrike to eliminate the threat. “During searches in a school, the troops located a tunnel shaft and photos of weapons. Furthermore, IDF troops struck terror targets, including observation posts and anti-tank launch posts,” the IDF said.

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