Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal on Wednesday hailed the rise of a convicted murderer to become the terror group’s leader in the Gaza Strip as a success for “Hamas-style democracy.”
Yahya Sinwar, 55, was jailed for murder in Israel and released as part of the 2011 swap for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, and also appears on the US terrorism blacklist. He was named as the terror group’s Gaza leader on Monday.
Speaking via live video stream to a conference in Beirut, Mashaal said: “Sinwar’s victory in becoming head of the Hamas movement in Gaza is part of the Hamas-style democracy that we cherish and of which we are proud.”
Mashaal said Sinwar’s predecessor, Ismail Haniyeh, could not run for the position again after serving two terms in that office. Haniyeh is the front-runner to replace Mashaal in elections for the Hamas top spot in the coming months.
Hamas has been conducting secret internal elections since the start of January.
The organization has four constituencies — Gaza, the West Bank, members in exile, and those imprisoned by Israel. Each of the four groups chooses local leaders as well as delegates to the group’s Shura Council. It is the Shura Council that votes on the group’s senior leadership.
Mashaal also emphasized, as have other senior Hamas officials since Sinwar’s election, that the group’s overall policies toward Israel will not be revised under the new leadership.
“There will be no change in the strategy of the resistance,” Mashaal said. “Rather, there is a change of personalities that does not alter the strategies of Hamas, which are derived from its institutional leadership.”
Sinwar, sentenced to life in 1989 for murdering Palestinian collaborators with Israel, spent 22 years in Israeli prisons before being released in 2011.
He is considered hawkish even by Hamas standards, and opposes any compromise in its policies regarding the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Even from prison, he was one of the main opponents of the Shalit exchange deal that saw him freed because he regarded the terms — one Israeli soldier for 1,027 prisoners — as a capitulation to Israel’s conditions.
Since his release, Sinwar has managed to amass strong political power inside Hamas, and was already widely considered to be the most powerful man in Gaza, despite his lack of status as a leader within the Hamas military or political wings.
New Hamas charter in ‘coming weeks’
Mashaal also said that Hamas would be publishing a new charter in the “coming weeks,” which would reflect “Hamas’s thought and political legacy.”
Last month, senior Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan claimed Hamas was working on “a clear political document” that would eliminate the rampant anti-Semitism currently found in the group’s charter.
The charter, penned in 1988, contains a cocktail of Nazi, communist and Islamist anti-Semitic tropes and conspiracy theories, including that Jews were behind the French and Russian revolutions and the two world wars, that they control the media and the UN, that they infiltrated the Freemasons and that they used their wealth to fund colonialism.