The Palestinian Gaza-ruling group Hamas named as its new deputy chief on Thursday a formerly Turkey-based commander Saleh al-Arouri.
Israel has accused Arouri of orchestrating a lethal triple kidnapping that helped trigger the 2014 Gaza war in 2014 during which Israeli strikes, Palestinian rocket attacks and the ground fighting resulted in the death of thousands of people, the vast majority of them Gazans
Saleh al-Arouri's promotion comes as Hamas seeks to close ranks with US-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after a decade-old rift, in an entente Israel says will not revive peace talks unless Hamas recognizes its right to exist and disarms.
Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah had chaired the first meeting of the Palestinian cabinet in the Gaza Strip for three years on Tuesday, in a move toward reconciliation between the mainstream Fatah party and Hamas.
The Palestinian Information Centre, 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.
The Washington Post cited a federal indictment stating that Arouri has been a “high-ranking Hamas military leader dating back to his role as a Hamas student cell leader at Hebron University in the early 1990s.” There, he studied sharia law and the following year was elected leader of the Islamic Faction at the university.
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 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.