Lead negotiator Saleh al-Arouri, the Hamas terror chief who Israel says planned 2014 kidnapping, killing of 3 Israeli teens, explains rationale behind Palestinian reconciliation

12 October 2017

Hamas has signed a reconciliation agreement with the Fatah party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in order that all Palestinian forces can “work together against the Zionist enterprise,” Saleh al-Arouri, the Hamas deputy political leader, said in Cairo on Thursday.

Speaking after the agreement was signed, Arouri, who headed the Hamas delegation that negotiated the deal, said Palestinian unity was vital “so that we can all work together against the Zionist enterprise, which seeks to wipe out and trample the rights of our people.”

“We in Hamas are determined, serious and sincere this time and every time to end the division,” Arouri said. “We have adopted the strategy of one step at a time so that the reconciliation will succeed.”

Seated alongside him, Azzam al-Ahmad, the head of the Fatah delegation for the talks, said he had been instructed by Abbas to end the rift between the rival factions so that all the Palestinian people’s strength could be unified, “headed by Fatah and Hamas.”

Fatah’s Azzam al-Ahmad, right, and Saleh al-Arouri, left, of Hamas shake hands after signing a reconciliation deal in Cairo on October 12, 2017, as the two rival Palestinian movements ended their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)

Islamist terror group Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s Fatah in a violent coup in 2007. It has since fought three major rounds of conflict against Israel, which it openly seeks to eliminate. Israel has always opposed any “unified” Palestinian government in which Hamas has a role. Together with much of the international community, Israel has demanded, as preconditions for Hamas legitimacy, that the group renounce terrorism, accept Israel’s right to exist, and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Under the agreement signed Thursday in Cairo, the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority is to resume full control of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip by December 1.

Senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad, right, and Hamas’ representative, Saleh al-Arouri, kiss after signing a reconciliation deal at a short ceremony at the Egyptian intelligence complex in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

Reports from Egypt Thursday, quoted by Israel Radio, said Hamas was not prepared to disarm. The Islamist terror group was said to have instead agreed, under the terms of the emerging reconciliation deal, that it would not use its weaponry unless a resort to force was approved by a joint panel. There was no immediate official confirmation of this.

It was also not immediately clear what would become of Hamas’s 25,000-strong military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Abbas had previously demanded that Hamas disarm.

Arouri, who in recent years served as the terror group’s head of West Bank operations, was appointed as the organization’s deputy political leader earlier this month. He serves under Ismail Haniyeh, who himself replaced Khaled Mashaal as the group’s political bureau chief in May.

Arouri is believed by Israel to have planned numerous terrorist attacks including the 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank — Gil-ad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel — which led to the 2014 Israel-Hamas war.

He was expelled from Doha in June along with other Hamas officials due to pressures it faced by other Arab states. He then settled in Lebanon.

The three Israeli teens kidnapped and murdered in 2014, from L-R: Eyal Yifrach, 19; Naftali Fraenkel, 16; and Gil-ad Shaar, 16 (photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has said Arouri continues to plan terror attacks against Israel and has been attempting “to boost the relationship between Hamas and Hezbollah” with Iranian support.

Arouri served several terms in Israeli jails, and was released in March 2010 as part of efforts to reach a larger prisoner swap for Gilad Shalit, an IDF corporal kidnapped by Hamas in 2006. Arouri went on to be involved in sewing up the deal that provided for the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in return for the freeing of Shalit.

He operated from Turkey for several years during a low in diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Ankara, but was required to leave when the two countries reconciled in 2016. He then moved to Qatar before being driven out in June of this year.

Israel’s Channel 10 reported last week that Israeli officials fear Arouri’s powerful position in Hamas could lead to an upsurge in terror if Fatah-Hamas reconciliation goes ahead, since Fatah could give Hamas greater flexibility and freedom in the West Bank.

Celebrations broke out in the Gaza Strip after the announcement of the deal on Thursday, with residents waving flags of Egypt, Palestine, Fatah and Hamas.

Negotiations are now expected to be held on forming a unity government, with the various Palestinian political movements invited to another meeting in Cairo on November 21.

Palestinians watch on TV the signing of a reconciliation deal in Cairo between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah on October 12, 2017, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP/Said Khatib)