Hamas’s policies will not change with the election of a new leadership, a Hamas spokesman said on Tuesday, one day after the Islamist movement elected Yahya Sinwar, a hard-liner, as its top leader in the Gaza Strip.
Israel sentenced Sinwar to four life terms in 1989 for a series of offenses including murdering alleged Palestinian collaborators with Israel. He served 22 years behind bars, but was freed in a swap of 1,047 Palestinian security prisoners for abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
“Will this election of Yahya Sinwar lead to an imminent war as some Zionist leaders claim? I say to you that Hamas does not change with the change of its leader,” said spokesman Salah Bardaweil.
Most experts have said that Sinwar’s election victory indicates the ascendancy of Hamas’s military leadership, which holds more bellicose positions than its political leadership.
Bardaweil added that Hamas’s institutions take primacy over its individual leaders.
“Hamas is an institutional movement and its decisions are made in a consultative council in a very complex manner. It is difficult for the top leader to make the decision singlehandedly,” the spokesman said. “[In Hamas,] the people change, but the positions, the philosophy, the strategy, and the general policies remain firm…Thus, these fears and concerns are not based on the reality of the situation.”
MK Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), said on Monday that Sinwar’s election may spell a war between Hamas and Israel earlier than expected.
“The message that we should understand here is that we should strengthen our abilities to destroy Hamas’ infrastructures in Gaza because they might use them sooner than we thought,” Dichter said.
Bardaweil also argued that the presumption that the outgoing Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, is more moderate than Sinwar, is inaccurate.
“If Yahya Sinwar is a extremist leader…and Ismail Haniyeh is less extremist, [how is it] that Haniyeh has three wars under his belt,” Bardaweil stated. “All of this talk is meaningless.”
Haniyeh served as Hamas’s Gaza chief during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2009, Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, and Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
Hamas has long supported armed confrontation with Isral, but following the massive destruction of Protective Edge, its leadership has attempted to avoid conflict with it.
In some instances over the past two and a half years, when Salafist and other groups have fired rockets into Israel, Hamas’s security forces have arrested suspects believed to have carried them out.
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