Ismail Haniyeh elected to another term as Hamas chief

Terror group’s leader has held the position since 2017, would stay on until 2025; quadrennial Hamas elections said to be drawing to a close

Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Rafah Medical Complex in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip on November 23, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Rafah Medical Complex in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip on November 23, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has been elected to a second term as the terror group’s political bureau chief, a source close to Hamas said on Sunday afternoon.

Haniyeh, who was first elected in 2017, is now allegedly set to lead Hamas until 2025. He replaced Khaled Mashaal, who had led the terror group since 1996.

Hamas did not immediately issue an official statement on the matter. According to a report in the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds, one is expected by Sunday evening.

According to Al-Quds, Hamas’s Shura Council convened on Saturday and elected Haniyeh. The Council is set to convene again on Sunday and elect Haniyeh’s deputy and the remaining members of Hamas’s political bureau.

The votes would bring an end to the months-long internal leadership vote inside Hamas. The elections officially began last March, although Hamas prisoners were rumored to have begun voting well before that.

Hamas holds secret ballots every four years, dividing the vote into four areas — Gaza, the West Bank, the diaspora and Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails. The elections appoint members at every level in the terror group’s hierarchy: from local leaders in Gaza and the West Bank to the Shura Council, a quasi-legislative branch.

Hamas’s Fatah rivals normally hold festive elections that draw large crowds to public polling places. By contrast, the Hamas vote is conducted in near-total secrecy.

Gaza bureau chief Yahya Sinwar — the enclave’s de facto ruler — saw a particularly bitter primary; he was nearly toppled by senior Hamas official Nizar Awadallah in April. Sinwar, 58, nonetheless managed to eke out a victory, and his popularity has only grown since what many Palestinians see as a Hamas triumph in the recent fighting with Israel.

Yahya Sinwar, leader of the Palestinian Hamas movement, gestures during a rally in Beit Lahiya on May 30, 2021. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

Current West Bank head Saleh al-Arouri, a notorious terrorist with a $5 million bounty on his head from the United States State Department, also won reelection, Hamas said last month.

Former politburo chief Mashaal, who had been rumored to seek a comeback as leader, was instead appointed chief of Hamas’s diaspora division. Mashaal currently resides in Doha, the capital of Hamas’s Qatari patrons.

Haniyeh, 59, was born in Gaza’s al-Shati refugee camp. A longtime student activist in the Muslim Brotherhood, Haniyeh was arrested several times for his participation in the First Intifada.

In 1992, Haniyeh, along with around 400 senior figures in Hamas, was deported by Israel to southern Lebanon by night. The deportees established a camp in Marj al-Zuhur near Israeli-controlled territory, drawing international attention. Israel eventually decided to allow most of the deportees, including Haniyeh, to return.

Since returning to Gaza, Haniyeh quickly rose through the ranks of the terror group. He became close to Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, Hamas’s spiritual leader, before the latter was assassinated by Israel in 2004.

Ismail Haniyeh gestures to supporters during a visit to the Ein el-Hilweh camp, Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, near the southern coastal city of Sidon on September 6, 2020. (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

Following Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, Haniyeh was chosen to lead the fragile unity government between Hamas and Fatah as prime minister. He subsequently led Hamas’s Gaza division before becoming the terror group’s leader.

The United States Treasury Department formally placed Haniyeh on its terrorism blacklist in 2018.

“Haniyeh has close links with Hamas’s military wing and has been a proponent of armed struggle, including against civilians,” the State Department said at the time. “He has reportedly been involved in terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. Hamas has been responsible for an estimated 17 American lives killed in terrorist attacks.”

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