GAZA (Reuters) - The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas named as its new deputy chief on Thursday a formerly Turkey-based commander whom Israel has accused of orchestrating a lethal triple kidnapping that helped trigger the 2014 Gaza war.
Saleh al-Arouri’s promotion comes as Hamas seeks to close ranks with U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after a decade-old schism, in an entente Israel says will not revive peace talks unless Hamas recognizes its right to exist and disarms.
The Palestinian Information Center, a Hamas-linked news site, said Arouri, who was born in the occupied West Bank and was exiled by Israel in 2010 after long stints in its prisons, had been elected as deputy to the group’s leader Ismail Haniyeh.
“He (Arouri) is now the Hamas movement’s No. 2 man,” the site said. “Twenty-three years of detention and expulsion have not weakened the resolve of the leader Saleh al-Arouri, 51.”
After three Israeli teens were abducted and killed in the West Bank in June 2014, Arouri - then in Istanbul - claimed responsibility in the name of Hamas.
Israel responded with a West Bank security sweep which, along with the revenge killing of a Palestinian youth from Jerusalem by a group of Israelis, spiraled into a 50-day war in the Gaza Strip, Hamas’ fiefdom. Gaza health officials say 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the conflict, while Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians.
Israel also pressed Ankara’s Islamist-rooted government to crack down on Arouri, describing him as the mastermind of the kidnappings and other Hamas militant attacks.
Hamas sources said Arouri left Turkey in late 2015 for Qatar and later Lebanon. They declined to give his current location.
Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Hugh Lawson