Palestinian Hamas militants attend a military drill in preparation to any upcoming confrontation with Israel, in the southern Gaza Strip March 25, 2018. .
(photo credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA / REUTERS)
The US State Department has announced a $5 million reward for information which would lead to the capture of deputy Hamas politburo chairman Saleh al-Arouri and two senior Hezbollah members.
“Hamas and Hezbollah receive weapons, training, and funding from Iran, which the Secretary of State has designated as a state sponsor of terrorism,” read the statement by the US Department of State, adding that both groups were designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) in October 1997 and as Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) entities in October 2001.
As one of the founding members of Hamas’s military wing in the West Bank, he participated in the group’s activities during the first intifada and was arrested by the IDF in 1992 and sentenced to 18 years in prison. When he was released in 2010, he was deported and later moved to Syria before he moved to Turkey in 2012, following the severing of ties between Hamas and the Assad regime after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war.
Arouri was expelled from Turkey following the 2015 reconciliation agreement between Israel and Turkey. He moved to Qatar, along with several other members of Hamas’s leadership. That September, he was designated by the US Department of the Treasury as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT).
Arouri, who is believed to be living in Dahiyeha – a Hezbollah stronghold in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, after being kicked out of Qatar in 2017 – is reportedly working with Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force.
While ties between Hamas and Iran cooled due to Tehran’s support for Damascus, Arouri has advocated for the rehabilitation of ties to increase support from the Quds force.
Last October, he led a Hamas delegation to Iran and met with senior Iranian officials, including international affairs adviser Ali Akbar Velayati and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Arouri also met with Nasrallah in Beirut last November, where the two agreed to strengthen the relationship between the two terror groups.
Outgoing Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has also charged Arouri with attempting “to boost the relationship between Hamas and Hezbollah… under an Iranian umbrella, and with the assistance of the Revolutionary Guards and [its leader] Qassem Soleimani.”
Israeli officials have accused Iran of growing involvement in funding terror groups such as Hamas to carry out attacks against the Jewish state, with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot stating that the Islamic Republic had increased its funding to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to the tune of $100 million to have more influence in the Gaza Strip.
Last year, the US designated Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh as a specially designated terrorist, becoming the first country outside of Israel to do so.
According to Ambassador Nathan A. Sales, the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, while the increased ties between Hamas and Iran played a role in the designation, the Trump administration’s top priority is to defeat terrorism “in all its forms” that threaten the United States and its allies.
The US State Department is also offering $5 million each for information on two senior Hezbollah members, Khalil Yusif Mahmoud Harb and Haytham ‘Ali Tabataba’i.
Harb, a close adviser to Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, also served as the group’s chief military liaison to Iran and to Palestinian terrorist organizations, commanding and supervising Hezbollah’s operations in the Palestinian territories and other Middle Eastern countries.
He was designated as a SDGT by the US Treasury Department in August 2013 and by Saudi officials in May 2015 after Riyadh accused him of commanding Hezbollah’s “central military unit,” and of being responsible for the group’s activities in Yemen.
Tabataba’i, who was designated as a SDGT in 2016, is accused of commanding Hezbollah’s special forces in both Syria and Yemen, and of providing training, material and personnel.
The US State Department later designated Jawad Nasrallah, Nsarallah’s son, as a terrorist and accused him of carrying out attacks against Israel in the West Bank.
In response, Hamas accused the US administration of “succumbing to pressure from the [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu government.” Hamas claimed that the US move was designed to “console” Israel for its “defeats” in the Gaza Strip.
“Hamas rejects this unjust decision and affirms that Arouri will continue to play a leading role and assume his national duties to serve his people,” Hamas said in a statement published in the Gaza Strip. “This decision and other US measures are part of an ongoing assault against our people and cause and a flagrant bias in favor of the enemy and its criminal policies.”
Hamas also condemned the US decision targeting the two senior Hezbollah officials and called on Arabs and Muslims to reject it.
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