Hamas elected an extreme figure in its military wing, the Izzadin Kassam Brigades, as its new leader in the Gaza Strip, Al Jazeera reported on Monday.
Yahya Sinwar, one of two military leaders in the Hamas Politburo, will replace current Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh, who is favored to take over for Khaled Mashaal as Politburo chairman.
Sinwar, 55, was given four life sentences in 1989 for a number of offenses, including his involvement in killing Palestinian collaborators with Israel, but was set free in 2011 as a part of the Gilad Schalit prisoner swap.
Khalil al-Hayya, another Hamas Politburo member and parliamentarian, was elected as deputy Gaza leader, according to Al Jazeera.
Hamas reportedly commenced its internal elections on February 3, but due to secrecy few details of their procedures are known. However, some Hamas officials have said that they expect the election of the Shura Council, Hamas’s parliament, and the Politburo to be completed in the coming months.
Sinwar is known to hold maximalist positions and is an ideological purist. He reportedly killed Palestinian collaborators with his own hands before his imprisonment and rejected the Schalit deal, maintaining that the Hamas leadership should have increased its demands.
Sinwar is also currently charged with overseeing ongoing prisoner negotiations between Hamas and Israel, which have seen little progress over the past two and a half years.
Hamas is demanding that, before the discussion of swaps begins, Israel release all of the Schalit deal prisoners, some of whom were rearrested after being released.
MK Avi Dichter, a former Shin Bet director, said Israel should be ready for a confrontation with Hamas earlier than expected.
“The message that we should understand here is that we should strengthen our abilities to destroy Hamas’s infrastructures in Gaza because they might use them sooner than we thought,” Dichter said.
Shaul Mishal, an expert in Palestinian politics and the head of the Middle East Studies program at the International Disciplinary Center, told The Jerusalem Post that Sinwar’s election reflects the ascendancy of Hamas’s military wing.
“His victory indicates that Hamas’s military wing, which is more hard-line and extreme than the political leadership, has taken charge of an important position in Hamas’s leadership,” Mishal said.
The Hamas military wing is known to hold steadfast positions, rejecting both compromise with Israel and concession to the Palestinian leadership’s conditions for joining the PLO.
Mishal added that Sinwar will likely be a new test for Israel’s political and military leaders.
“This man can put Israel to the test in a way that other Hamas leaders have not – he may be much more willing to check where Israel’s redlines are and resort to violence,” Mishal stated.
Sinwar was one of the main military leaders during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, directing activity and pushing the leadership to increase its demands for a permanent cease-fire.Udi Shaham contributed to this report.