Hamas named militant commander Yehiya Sinwar as its new leader in the Gaza Strip on 13 February 2017, placing one of the Islamic militant group's most hard-line figures in charge of its core power base. The appointment of Sinwar, who was freed by Israel in a 2011 prisoner swap after two decades behind bars, solidified the takeover of Gaza operations by the armed wing of the group from civilian leaders. The military wing, which controls thousands of fighters and a vast arsenal of rockets, has battled Israel in three wars since Hamas seized Gaza a decade ago. The militant wing tends to take more hard-line positions toward Israel, while the politicians, who are tasked with improving the difficult living conditions in Gaza, tend to be more pragmatic.
Sinwar, who was in his mid-50s, comes from the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis and was a founder of Hamas' military wing in the 1980s. Hamas is sworn to Israel's destruction and has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, shootings and other attacks. It is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union. Sinwar was sentenced to four life terms by Israel in 1988 for a series of offenses, including his role as mastermind of the abduction and killing of two Israeli soldiers. During his final years in prison, he was the leader of the hundreds of Hamas prisoners held by Israel. In 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to release Sinwar, along with about 1,000 other prisoners, in exchange for Gilad Schalit, an Israeli soldier who had been captured by Hamas five years earlier in a cross-border raid.
Sinwar, who rejects any reconciliation with Israel, has quickly restored his power in the movement since his return to Gaza. He is widely believed to be behind the 2016 unprecedented killing of another top Hamas commander in an internal power struggle. Sinwar has rarely appeared in public since a 2014 war with Israel. Sinwar has close ties to Qatar and Turkey, two of the few countries that have good relations with Hamas.
Sinwar replaced Ismail Haniyeh, who served as the prime minister of Hamas' government following the 2007 takeover of Gaza and remained a top figure in the movement. Haniyeh is now expected to take over as Hamas' supreme leader, replacing Khaled Mashaal, who lives in exile. Khalil al-Haya, another political hard-liner, was elected as Sinwar's deputy.
Israel has not targeted the various leaders of Hamas since an informal cease fire was declared in February of 2005. Before that cease fire, Israel had declared a campaign to wipe out the Islamic militant group's leadership ahead of the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in August of 2005. Israel was fairly successful in 2003-2004, in which they killed several Hamas leaders or senior officials. Following the killing of Abdel Aziz Rantisi on 17 April 2004, Hamas decided to try to avoid creating targets for Israel. Since that decison, Hamas has not had a clear single leader.
There are three generational groupings inside Hamas today, each more radical than its predecessor. The "first" or oldest generation, led by Abdel Fatah Dukhan, is closely associated with the regional Muslim Brotherhood and active in "da'wa," (preaching and mobilization). This generation has little influence in day-to-day decision-making. More influential is the "second generation" of Hamas, led by Political Bureau head Khaled Mish'al, deposed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, and "Interior Minister" Fathi Hamad. This generation is made up primarily of First Intifada veterans and was responsible for Hamas's emergence in the 1980s as a movement with a distinct identity from the Muslim Brotherhood. Finally, a more radical third generation forms the base of Hamas's military wing, under the leadership of Ahmad Ja'bari [who was killed by the Israelis in 2012] and funded [for a time] by Iran.
Khaled Mashal, a physics teacher, who directed Hamas's political bureau from Damascus and later Qatar, was what he called the group's "first head," its world leader. After the killing of Abdel Aziz Rantisi in 2004, he is considered to be the highest-ranking member of Hamas.
After the killing of al-Rantisi in April 2004, Israel's minister for parliamentary relations, Gideon Ezra, warned that Khaled Mashal will meet a fate identical to that of al-Rantisi.
Mishal was born in the West Bank in 1956 and studied physics at Kuwait University, where he led the Islamic Palestinian student movement. Mishal is considered the leader of Hamas and initially resided in Damascus, Syria, where he had lived in exile since the early 1990s. On 01 April 2013 Khaled Meshaal was re-elected as the political leader of the Palestinian militant movement Hamas for another four years. The secret direct vote by members of the group's Shura Council took place at a Cairo hotel on Monday evening. Meshaal, then 56, was born in a village in the West Bank, but had long lived in exile. He had run Hamas since 1996, surviving an assassination attempt in 1997.
In October 1997 men carrying forged Canadian passports and believed to be agents of Mossad, the Israeli secret service, tried and failed to poison Khaled Mashal in Amman, Jordan. Two of the agents were chased and captured, while the HAMAS official was taken to a hospital and, although seriously ill, recovered. The event caused an uproar in Israel, the Middle East generally, and beyond. Canada recalled its ambassador from Israel over the used of forged Canadian passports. Jordan's government demanded the antidote for the poison used in the assassination attempt, and Jordan's King Hussein then brokered a deal that saw the ailing Muslim religious leader who founded HAMAS, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, released from an Israeli prison and eventually returned to Gaza. Several other HAMAS activists were also released from Israeli jails, presumably in return for the two Israeli agents being held in Jordanian police custody. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reported to have personally ordered the assassination effort.
Following the election victory of Hamas, in the January 2006 Palestinian parlimentary elections, Mashal declared that Hamas will not disarm. Many Western countries had asked Hamas to disarm and have threatened to cut off aid to Palestine if they do not lay down their weapons. Mashal has even suggested that Hamas could create a Palestinian army to defend Palestine against aggression. But he also announced that Hamas will be working with Fatah to form a partnership in order to govern the Palestinians.
Mahmoud Zahar, one of the founders of Hamas, is another top ranking official in the organization. He was the first public spokesperson for Hamas when it was founded. Zahar might have been considered a rival of Rantisi and Mashal. In September 2003, Israel bombed the home of Mahmoud Zahar in Gaza City. Zahar survived the attack, but several others, including his eldest son, were reported killed when Israeli warplanes targeted his house.
Following the killing of Abdel Aziz Rantisi in 2004, the Hamas's Damascus-based leader, Khaled Mashaal, instructed the group to keep the name of its new Gaza leader secret. But it soon came out that Mahmoud Zahar, who had been Rantisi's second in command, was part of a "collective leadership" of Hamas's Gaza Strip stronghold. The other members of this leadership include Ismail Haniyeh. Zahar, though, is considered the most senior member of the leadership.
Following the overwhemling Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections of 26 January 2006, Zahar announced that Hamas would extend its year old truce with Israel, if Israel agreed to reciprocate.
Mohammed Deif [moh-HAH-mehd DAYF] was born in Gaza in 1960. Since 2002, he had been the Gaza commander of the military wing of Hamas, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades. Deif was critically wounded in a targeted Israeli attack on 26 September 2002. He was appointed head of the Hamas military wing in 2002 after the death of his predecessor, Salah Shehade, in an Israeli raid on 23 July 2002. According to some, Deif's mentor was Yahya Ayyash, a renowned Hamas bomb maker and head of the Qassam brigades until his assassination in late 1995. Deif's exact whereabouts are unknown. Marwan Issa, who replaced Ahmed Jabari after the latter was killed in 2012 by Israel, serves as Deif's deputy.
Various legends and myths have been associated with his health condition, some claiming that he suffered brain damage. In July 2006, Yediot and Maariv cited the IDF's belief that Hamas military chief Mohammed Deif, who was wounded in an IAF bombardment in Gaza City on 12 July 2006, was paralyzed and in a critical condition. Deif, the senior Palestinian terror suspect wanted by Israel, once appeared in a Hamas film, in which he issued statement proving that he is still active.
Deif said in July 2006 that "all the land conquered in 1948 is Palestine's land. Every Muslim in the world has the right and duty to fight in order to liberate this land because it is Muslim land.... We are a nation which has been defeated, deprived and expelled from our lands, and we are operating to obtain what we deserve what we had before 1948. Then there was no state called Israel. This occupation state was founded due to a United Nations decision. One can still see that all the UN rules apply to the weak side and not to the Israeli entity".
Ha'aretz reported in June 2008 that Hamas's military wing, Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam, had split into two groups after an attempt to depose its military commander, Ahmed Al-Jabari. Palestinian sources were quoted as saying that the attempt to replace Al-Jabari with Imad Akal failed, but that it had split the organization into two camps: one led by Al-Jabari and the other by Akal. Mohammed Deif, the former head of Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam, was behind the attempt, according to the sources.
Hamas appears to include political and military wings, but distinctions between the two are not fully clear. Hamas' leadership structure is more difficult to discern. Various sources describe some of the leaders as follows:
Musa Abu-Marzuq: Born in Gaza in 1951, Marzuq received a doctorate in industrial engineering in the United States. He serves as Hamas' deputy political leader, and is based in Syria. He lived in the United States and Jordan for many years and was expelled from both countries. In 2004, a U.S. court indicted him in absentia for coordinating and financing Hamas activities.
Mahmoud al-Zahar: Born in Gaza, Zahar, studied medicine in Cairo and is a founding member of Hamas. Referred to as a "hardliner," Zahar was to lead the Hamas faction in parliament.
Aziz Dweik: Dweik, an academic by profession, was born in 1948 and has a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania. Dweik was deported to Lebanon in 1992 and served as spokesperson of the deportees.
Sheik Hassan Yousef: Yousef has been the head of Hamas in the West Bank since 2001. Considered by many experts to be pragmatic, Yousef's participation in parliament, may promote moderation within Hamas.
Sheik Muhammed Abu Tayr: Tayr, from Jerusalem, garnered the second-most votes on Hamas' national candidates list. Tayr spent 25 years in prison, is a former member of Fatah, and generally keeps a lower profile than other Hamas leaders. Though multiple reports claim Tayr supports sharia (Islamic law) influenced legislation, he does not appear to want to impose Islamic law.
On 12 June 2003 Israeli helicopter gunships fired several missiles at a car carrying Hamas activists. The car was destroyed, and one of the dead was identfied as Yasser Taha, a leader of Hamas' military wing. The medical sources say a three-year-old girl was also among those killed. About 25 people were wounded in the attack.
Hamas vowed revenge for the killing of the senior Hamas official, Abdullah Qawasmeh, in a raid that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hailed as a "successful operation." Israeli officials said Qawasmeh was the mastermind behind a series of suicide attacks carried out by Hamas, including a bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed 17 people. A special anti-terrorist squad of Israel's Border Police entered Hebron on 21 June 2003 in what they said was a bid to arrest Mr. Qawasmeh but ended up killing him when, they said, he resisted arrest. They said he was armed and tried to escape.
Hamas confirmed that an Israeli air strike killed the number two leaders of its military wing 14 November 2011. Ahmed Al-Jaabari, died along with a passenger after their car was hit by a missile on while travelling in Gaza.