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Rival Palestinians Strike Gaza Unity Deal After Cairo Talks

By Saud Abu Ramadan and Fadwa Hodali

October 12, 2017

Rival Palestinian groups agreed on Thursday to end their decade-old rift, signing an Egyptian-brokered deal that will allow a unity government to resume control of the Gaza Strip and deploy forces to the border with Egypt within weeks.

Hamas, an embattled Islamist movement which had controlled Gaza since 2007, last week handed over most government functions to the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, in a first step toward ending divisions that have complicated the Palestinian bid for statehood.

Under the accord struck in Cairo, the consensus government will formally take full administrative control of Gaza by Dec. 1, according to a statement issued after the talks. The two sides have been invited to return to the Egyptian capital for more negotiations on Nov. 21. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ordered all state agencies to “restore the unity of the Palestinian people and institutions.”

In a joint news conference, chief Fatah negotiator Azzam al-Ahmad said the deal crucially would see the Palestinian Authority’s presidential guards deploy along the border between Gaza and Egypt by Nov. 1. If that leads to greater security, Egypt might be willing to permanently reopen the Rafah border crossing, one of the isolated coastal enclave’s few outlets to the world.

After initially shunning Hamas, the Egyptian government of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi sought its help in controlling the movement of militants and weapons through cross-border tunnels between Gaza and Egypt’s northern Sinai, where an Islamic State affiliate is fighting the Egyptian government — a conflict that has battered the Red Sea tourist industry.

Armed Wing

“The consensus government has to take full control in the Gaza Strip and carry out all its duties and functions in all aspects of life, running the crossing points either with Israel or with Egypt,” Fatah’s Al-Ahmad said.

There was no indication from either side, however, that any understanding had been reached on the fate of Hamas’ armed wing, a sticking point which could yet scupper reconciliation efforts. Hamas leaders have said they would not disarm as long as Israel occupies Palestinian land. Abbas has said he wants weapons to be under unified control.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week warned against any “bogus” unity bid that would threaten his country if Hamas is allowed to keep its guns. On Thursday, he said any Palestinian government must meet the conditions of the international Quartet behind peace efforts, including recognizing Israel and respecting past agreements. Israel will watch as the situation develops and will react accordingly, he said.

The willingness of Hamas to work with Fatah, which governs the Authority’s West Bank territories, comes amid desperation in Gaza, whose economy has been strangled for years by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade, the destruction of its underground smuggling tunnels and wars with Israel. The destitution deepened earlier this year when Abbas engineered a power shortage to put further pressure on Hamas, which is shunned as a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.

Israeli Assertions

Gaza, which sits on the Mediterranean coast and is fenced in by heavily-patrolled barriers on three sides bordering Israel and Egypt, has been a frequent battleground over the past decade, during which Hamas has fought three wars with Israel. Abbas has tried numerous times without success to repair the rift, in part to counter Israeli assertions that peace negotiations are pointless because he can’t ensure that any treaty will also hold in Gaza.

Previous efforts to reconcile have failed due to disagreements over the fate of the weapons held by Hamas, as well as control of borders and other key institutions. This time, Hamas has gone further in offering concessions to heal the rift. As well as offering help to secure the border with Egypt, it has distanced itself from the Muslim Brotherhood, which former military chief El-Sisi removed from power in mid-2013.

Internationally isolated and with the economy in shreds, Hamas said last month it was ready to dismantle the administrative committee it set up earlier this year to run Gaza. Abbas viewed the panel as a shadow government and evidence of bad faith in the talks.

“We, in Hamas, are determined, serious and faithful this time,” Hamas negotiator Saleh Al-Arouri said at the news conference in Cairo. “This time is different to the previous times.”

— With assistance by Ahmed Feteha, Tarek El-Tablawy, Lin Noueihed, and Michael Arnold

Source: Bloomberg.

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-12/palestinians-strike-gaza-unity-deal-after-marathon-cairo-talks.

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Fatah, Hamas reach agreement in Palestinian reconciliation talks

2017-10-12

GAZA CITY – Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah reached an agreement Thursday on ending a decade-long split following talks mediated by Egypt in Cairo, with president Mahmud Abbas calling it a “final” accord.

Details of the agreement have not yet been released and a press conference was being planned for Thursday afternoon in the Egyptian capital, where talks have been taking place since Tuesday.

Abbas welcomed the deal and said he considered it a “final agreement to end the division” — though many details remain to be resolved and previous reconciliation attempts have repeatedly failed.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya’s office said in a statement, without giving further details, that “an agreement was reached today between Hamas and Fatah under Egyptian sponsorship.”

An official from Abbas’s Fatah movement said the Palestinian president was now planning to travel to the Gaza Strip within a month as part of the unity bid in what would be his first visit in a decade.

Sanctions taken by Abbas against Hamas-controlled Gaza will also soon be lifted, the Fatah official said.

The deal includes 3,000 members of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority’s police force redeploying to Gaza, a member of the negotiating team said on condition of anonymity.

The figure is however a fraction of the more than 20,000 police officers employed separately by Hamas.

Another party to the negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the agreement would see Palestinian Authority forces take control of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

He added that all Palestinian factions would begin wider negotiations on the formation of a unity government in the coming two weeks.

One of the key issues has been punitive measures taken by Abbas against Gaza in recent months, including reducing electricity payments that left the territory’s residents with only a few hours of power a day.

“All the measures taken recently will end very shortly,” Zakaria al-Agha, a senior Fatah leader in the Gaza Strip, said.

The two sides had been meeting in the Egyptian capital this week with the aim of ending the crippling decade-old split between the rival factions.

Hamas seized Gaza from Fatah in a near civil war in 2007 and the two factions have been at loggerheads ever since. Multiple previous reconciliation efforts have failed.

Egypt has been keen to improve security in the Sinai Peninsula which borders Gaza and where jihadist rebels have fought a long-running insurgency.

An Egyptian source close to the talks said intelligence chief Khaled Fawzi had followed the talks closely.

– Fate of armed wing –

Last month, Hamas agreed to cede civil power in Gaza to the Palestinian Authority but the fate of its vast military wing remains a significant issue for the two sides.

Islamist movement Hamas is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union.

It has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and the blockaded Gaza Strip has seen deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

Faced with increasing isolation and a severe electricity shortage, Hamas has reached out to Egypt for help, hoping to have the Rafah border opened.

The crossing has remained largely closed in recent years.

Egypt has also agreed to provide fuel to the Gaza Strip for electricity generation.

In return, Cairo pressed Hamas to move forward on reconciliation with Fatah.

Previous attempts at reconciliation have repeatedly failed, and many analysts are treating the latest bid with caution, waiting to see if actual change will occur on the ground.

Last week, Palestinian Authority prime minister Rami Hamdallah visited Gaza for the first time since 2015 and his ministers took formal control of government departments in the territory.

But the move was seen as mainly symbolic, with Hamas still effectively in charge in the Palestinian enclave of two million people bordered by Egypt, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea.

One of the key sticking points will be the fate of Hamas’s 25,000-strong military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

Reconciliation could also pose a dilemma for international efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal since Hamas has not recognized Israel, unlike the Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organization.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85354.

Palestinian cabinet convenes in Gaza for first time since 2014 amid Fatah, Hamas unity talks

GAZA CITY, Palestine

October 3, 2017

The Palestinian cabinet met in Gaza on Tuesday for the first time since 2014 in a further step towards the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority retaking control of the territory.

The meeting of the Fatah-led government, which is based in the occupied West Bank, comes as part of moves to end a decade-long split between the PA and the Hamas movement, which runs Gaza.

In an opening speech, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah renewed his pledge to end the rift.

“We are here to turn the page on division, restore the national project to its correct direction and establish the (Palestinian) state,” he said.

It was the first meeting of the cabinet in Gaza since November 2014, and comes a day after Hamdallah entered the territory for the first time since a unity government collapsed in June 2015.

On Monday, he met with senior Hamas figures, including leader Ismail Haniya.

After Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, government spokesman Yusuf Al Mahmud said ministers discussed the humanitarian situation in Gaza. No Hamas officials took part.

Mahmud warned that a full reconciliation deal would take time.

“The government does not have a magic wand,” he told reporters.

More than two million people live in impoverished Gaza, which has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt for years.

The sides will hold further talks next week in the Egyptian capital Cairo.

Punitive measures imposed by the PA against Hamas, including cutting electricity payments for Gaza, would remain in place pending the result of those talks, Mahmoud added.

Hamas called for the measures to be ended immediately as a show of good will.

“Our people look forward to practical steps to ease their suffering,” a statement said.

A main sticking point between the parties is whether tens of thousands of Hamas employees will be added to the PA’s already bloated government payroll. It is also unclear if Hamas will allow its militants to be replaced by PA security forces, especially at Gaza’s border crossings to Egypt.

Hamas has controlled Gaza since seizing it from the PA in a near civil war in 2007 after Hamas swept 2006 legislative polls that were ultimately rejected by Fatah, Israel and the international community. So far, multiple previous reconciliation attempts have failed.

Last month, Hamas announced they were willing to cede civilian control to the PA, following Egyptian pressure.

The United States and the European Union blacklist Hamas as a terrorist organization, complicating the formation of any potential unity government.

The head of Egyptian intelligence Khaled Fawzi is to visit Gaza later on Tuesday and meet with Hamas and PA officials, including Haniya.

‘Carefully optimistic’

Tuesday’s cabinet session took place at the official Gaza residence of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in the cabinet office, hung with portraits of Abbas and historic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Huge posters of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who brokered the reconciliation effort, were also featured outside Abbas’ residence.

Abbas himself remained in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Hamas security were on the roof of the building, while Palestinian Authority agents were deployed inside, an AFP correspondent reported.

“Today we are faced with a historic revival in which we are grappling with our wounds and elevating our unity,” Hamdallah said, reaffirming that there would be no Palestinian state without Gaza.

U.N. Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov said on Monday that he was “carefully optimistic” about the reconciliation talks.

“If the region stays engaged, if Egypt’s role continues and if the political parties themselves continue to show the willingness they are currently showing to work with us on this process, then it can succeed,” he told AFP.

In an interview on Monday night Abbas said that while the two sides “might have wronged each other and cursed each other, today we enter a new phase.”

A key issue is Hamas’s powerful military wing that has fought three wars with Israel since 2008. Hamas officials reject the possibility of dissolving it.

Abbas told Egypt’s CBC that there will be “one state, one system, one law and one weapon” — in an apparent reference to Hamas’s military wing.

He also warned Hamas could not “copy or clone Hezbollah’s experience in Lebanon,” referring to a situation where an independent armed group exerts major influence on national politics.

The United States cautiously welcomed Hamdallah’s visit, but White House special envoy Jason Greenblatt warned any Palestinian government “must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties and peaceful negotiations.”

The Palestinian Authority has signed peace deals with Israel, but Hamas was not party to them and does not recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Source: Daily Sabah.

Link: https://www.dailysabah.com/mideast/2017/10/03/palestinian-cabinet-convenes-in-gaza-for-first-time-since-2014-amid-fatah-hamas-unity-talks.

Fatah welcomes Hamas pledge to try to end Palestinian split

September 17, 2017

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement on Sunday welcomed a pledge by its Hamas rival to accept key conditions for ending a decade-old Palestinian political and territorial split, but said it wants to see vows implemented before making the next move.

Repeated attempts at reconciliation have failed since the militant Hamas drove forces loyal to Abbas from the Gaza Strip in 2007, a year after defeating Fatah in parliament elections. The takeover led to rival governments, with Hamas controlling Gaza and Abbas in charge of autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Earlier Sunday, Hamas announced that it has accepted key Abbas demands for ending the split. This includes holding general elections in the West Bank and Gaza, dissolving a contentious Gaza administrative committee and allowing an Abbas-led “unity government,” formed in 2014 but until now unable to start operating in Gaza, to finally assume responsibility there.

The announcement came after separate talks by Hamas and Fatah delegations with Egyptian intelligence officials in Cairo in recent days. Egypt relayed Fatah demands to Hamas that as a first step, it must dissolve the administrative committee, its de facto government in Gaza, and allow the unity government to take charge.

“We accepted that as a sign of our good will toward reconciliation,” Hamas official Hussam Badran told The Associated Press. “The administrative committee is now dissolved and the government can come to Gaza today to assume its responsibilities and duties,” he said.

Azzam al-Ahmed, a Fatah participant in the talks, said Hamas and Fatah agreed to meet in Cairo within 10 days, during which time the national unity government should assume its responsibility in Gaza.

Mahmoud Aloul, another Fatah official, told the Voice of Palestine radio that the news from Cairo is encouraging, but that “we want to see that happening on the ground before we move to the next step.”

Hamas has been greatly weakened by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade, three wars with Israel and international isolation. Gaza’s economy is in tatters and residents of the territory have electricity for only a few hours a day. In recent months, Abbas has stepped up financial pressure on Hamas, including by scaling back electricity payments to Gaza, to force his rivals to cede ground.

Still, there were no guarantees that this deal would succeed where others failed. In previous deals, including one brokered by Egypt in 2011, both sides professed willingness to reconcile, but ultimately balked at giving up power in their respective territories.

A key sticking point in the past was Hamas’ refusal to place its security forces in Gaza under the control of an Abbas-led unity government. It also was not clear how Egypt’s latest effort aligns with its previous tacit support for a separate Gaza power-sharing deal between Hamas and Mohammed Dahlan, an exiled former Abbas aide-turned-rival.

New Hamas leader says it is getting aid again from Iran

August 28, 2017

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Hamas’ new leader in the Gaza Strip said Monday his group has repaired relations with Iran after a five-year rift and is using its newfound financial and military aid to gear up for new hostilities with Israel.

The announcement by Yehiyeh Sinwar came as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was visiting Israel. At a meeting with the U.N. chief, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained about what he called rising anti-Israel activity by Iran and its allies in the region.

Iran was once the top backer of Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction. But Hamas broke with Iran in 2012 after the group refused to support Iran’s close ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, in the Syrian civil war.

During a four-hour meeting with journalists, Sinwar said those ties have been restored and are stronger than ever. “Today, the relationship with Iran is excellent, or very excellent,” Sinwar said. He added that the Islamic Republic is “the largest backer financially and militarily” to Hamas’ military wing.

It was the first time that Sinwar has met reporters since he was elected in February. The 55-year-old Sinwar, who spent two decades in Israeli prison after being convicted of masterminding the abduction and killing of two Israeli soldiers, has close ties with Hamas’ militant wing and takes a hard line toward Israel.

Israel and Iran are bitter enemies, and Israel has recently expressed concern that Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah are seeking a permanent military presence in Syria near the Israeli border. Both Hezbollah fighters and Iran have backed Assad’s forces in the Syrian war.

In his meeting with Guterres, Netanyahu alleged Iran is building sites in Syria and Lebanon to produce “precision-guided missiles” to be used against Israel. “Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment, and it wants to use Syria and Lebanon as warfronts against its declared goal to eradicate Israel,” Netanyahu said. “This is something Israel cannot accept. This is something the U.N. should not accept.”

Israel has also accused the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, of failing to prevent Hezbollah from smuggling huge quantities of weapons into southern Lebanon in violation of a 2006 cease-fire. UNIFIL’s mandate is up for renewal at the end of the month and Israel is pressing for the force to have an increased presence to better monitor and prevent the alleged Hezbollah arms buildup.

UNIFIL’s commander, Maj. Gen. Michael Beary, told The Associated Press last week that he has no evidence that weapons are being illegally transferred and stockpiled in the Hezbollah-dominated south. But Guterres promised Netanyahu that he will do everything in my capacity” to ensure UNIFIL fulfills its obligations.

“I understand the security concerns of Israel and I repeat that the idea or the intention or the will to destroy the state of Israel is something totally unacceptable from my perspective,” he said. Responding to Israeli claims that the U.N. is biased, Guterres stressed his commitment to “treating all states equally.” He said those who call for Israel’s destruction peddle in a “form of modern anti-Semitism” — though he also said he doesn’t always agree with the country’s policies.

Guterres heads to the West Bank on Tuesday and is scheduled to visit Gaza on Wednesday. The U.N. maintains major operations in Gaza, running schools and health clinics and delivering humanitarian aid. Guterres is not scheduled to speak to Hamas.

Late Monday, Guterres met with Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, commander of COGAT, the defense body that is responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs. Mordechai blamed Hamas for the poor conditions in Gaza, saying the group tries to exploit civilians and aid programs. He also said Hamas’ refusal to return the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers, along with two Israeli civilians it is holding, hinders Israeli efforts to assist Gaza.

“The terror organization Hamas does not hesitate at all and repeatedly exploits the Gaza residents by attempting to take advantage of Israel’s assistance, despite the severe civil hardships in the strip,” Mordechai said.

Guterres later met with the families of the dead soldiers and captive Israeli civilians. In his briefing with reporters, Sinwar would not say how much aid Iran provides his group. Before the 2012 breakup, Iran provided an estimated $50 million a month to Hamas.

Hamas wrested control of Gaza from the Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas’ forces in 2007. Since then, it has fought three wars with Israel. Hamas 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 stressed that the Iranian aid is for “rebuilding and accumulating” Hamas’ military powers for a larger fight against Israel that is meant to “liberate Palestine.” “Thousands of people work every day to make rockets, (dig) tunnels and train frogmen,” he said. “The relationship with Iran is in this context.”

But the shadowy leader said his movement does not intend to start a fourth war with Israel, instead preferring to remedy dire living conditions in the impoverished coastal enclave. Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Hamas takeover a decade ago. Trying to pressure Hamas and regain control, Abbas has asked Israel to reduce electricity supplies to Gaza, and he has slashed the salaries of thousands of his former government employees there.

The result is that Gaza suffers acute power outages of up to 16 hours a day, unemployment of nearly 50 percent and widespread poverty. Sinwar has turned to Egypt, which has begun to ease the blockade as it seeks Hamas’ help in controlling their border. The Egyptian military has been fighting an Islamic insurgency in the Sinai desert, near Gaza.

Relations with Cairo “have improved dramatically,” Sinwar said. Egypt has recently sent fuel to ease the power crisis in response to Hamas’ building of a buffer zone along the border. “We will knock on all the doors, except that of the (Israeli) occupation, to resolve the problems,” he said.

Sinwar was among more than 1,000 Palestinians released by Israel in 2011 in exchange for an Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit, whom Hamas kidnapped in 2006. Sinwar said there would be no new talks over a prisoner swap until Israel frees 54 prisoners released in the Schalit swap that have been re-arrested.

“We are ready to start negotiations through a mediator, but only when the table is cleaned. Freed prisoners must feel they are immune.”

Federman reported from Jerusalem.

Hamas says Ismail Haniyeh chosen as Islamic group’s leader

May 06, 2017

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Hamas Islamic militant movement that controls the Gaza Strip announced Saturday it had chosen its former Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh as the group’s new political chief.

Haniyeh succeeds Hamas’ longtime exiled leader Khaled Mashaal, and the move comes shortly after Gaza’s rulers unveiled a new, seemingly more pragmatic political program aimed at ending the group’s international isolation.

Hamas is trying to rebrand itself as an Islamic national liberation movement, rather than a branch of the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood, which has been outlawed by Egypt. It has also dropped explicit language calling for Israel’s destruction, though it retains the goal of eventually “liberating” all of historic Palestine, which includes what is now Israel.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the group hoped Haniyeh’s election “would see opening to the region.” Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007, after securing an overwhelming victory in legislative elections the previous year and ending 40 years of political domination by its rival Fatah party. Hamas captured the coastal strip by violently overthrowing forces loyal to the Fatah movement, led by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel, along with Egypt, has been enforcing a crippling border blockade against them since then. Though it has softened some of its rhetoric, Hamas’ new platform clung to the hard-line positions that led to its isolation. The group reaffirmed it will not recognize Israel, renounce violence or recognize previous interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deals — the West’s long-standing conditions for dealing with Hamas.

In its founding charter, Hamas called for setting up an Islamic state in historic Palestine, or the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, which also includes Israel. It also included anti-Jewish references.

Over the years, Hamas has carried out shootings, suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israel. Since 2008, Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza have fought three cross-border wars. Abbas has been an outspoken opponent of violence, saying it undercuts Palestinian interests. Repeated reconciliation efforts between the Palestinian factions have failed. Hamas has sharply criticized Abbas’ political program, which rests on setting up a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.

Haniyeh’s selection marks the final phase of the secretive Hamas elections. In February, the group chose militant commander Yehiya Sinwar, one of its most hard-line figures, as its new Gaza chief in charge of the group’s core power base.

Haniyeh, 54, was born in the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza. He was the private secretary of Hamas’ founder and spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin. In 2006, after Hamas won the legislative elections, Haniyeh was chosen by the movement to form its first government. He resigned as prime minister after Hamas and Fatah agreed to form a unity government in 2014 — a government has never taken hold.

For the past four years he has served as Mashaal’s deputy. Haniyeh’s first task will be to cope with escalating tensions between Hamas and Fatah. In recent weeks, Abbas has threatened to exert financial pressure, including cutting wage payments and aid to Gaza, as a way of forcing Hamas to cede ground.

Gaza resident Rani Abu Samra said he hoped Haniyeh’s election could bridge gaps with Fatah and mark “a new beginning for a real reconciliation on the internal Palestinian level.” In Gaza, where Haniyeh still resides in his home in a refugee camp, some residents saw his election as a sign that could draw attention to the territory’s woes.

“If someone is from outside Gaza, he won’t talk about Gaza’s ordeals and worries properly,” said Ahmed Okasha, a Gaza vendor. Since quitting his longtime base in Damascus in 2012, Mashaal has mostly lived in lavish suites in the capital of the oil rich gulf state of Qatar.

Hamas elects military hardliner as Gaza chief

2017-02-13

GAZA – Hamas elected in secret a hardline member of the Palestinian Islamist movement’s armed wing as its new Gaza leader on Monday, indicating a tougher stand against longtime adversary Israel.

Yahya Sinwar was elected to head the Hamas political office in the Gaza Strip, officials from the party said on condition of anonymity.

An influential military figure, Sinwar represents for some the hardest line within the Islamist movement which has fought three wars against Israel since 2008.

He will succeed politician Ismail Haniya and becomes the second most important figure in the party after Khaled Meshaal.

Sinwar was held in Israeli jail for more than 20 years until 2011, when he was released along with more than 1,000 other Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured five years earlier.

He has since become a senior figure in the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing.

In September 2015, Sinwar’s name was added to the US terrorism blacklist alongside two other Qassam members.

Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a political analyst in Gaza, said the appointment showed the military wing was asserting its dominance in Hamas.

Israel’s foreign ministry and prime minister’s office declined to comment, but the defense ministry body responsible for the Palestinian territories labelled him the head of Hamas’s “radical camp”.

– Secretive –

A graduate in Arabic, Sinwar was born in the Khan Younis refugee camp of southern Gaza in 1962 and founded “Majd,” one of Hamas’s intelligence services.

In 1988, he was arrested by Israel for “terrorist activity” and eventually sentenced to four life sentences.

Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, two years after Israel pulled its forces out but Sinwar remained in jail for another four years.

He was released in October 2011 as part of a mammoth deal for Shalit, who was captured in 2006.

Washington accuses Sinwar of pushing for kidnapping more Israeli soldiers as a bargaining chip for Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas currently claims to be holding four Israelis in captivity in Gaza, though Israel says the two soldiers among them were killed in the 2014 war.

After his release from jail, Sinwar initially made a number of public appearances.

Later, however, he disappeared from public view and was presented in Hamas media as the commander of Qassam’s elite units.

On Monday, he seemed set to step back into the public sphere at a time when Hamas has been holding elections.

The election process, ongoing for months, is shrouded in mystery and it was unclear how Sinwar was appointed and if and when other appointments will be announced.

There was no reference to his appointment on the Hamas website Monday afternoon.

Haniya is seen by many observers as the most likely successor to Hamas’s overall leader Meshaal, who currently lives in exile.

Sinwar, however, could have significant freedom inside Gaza.

– ‘Escalation’ –

Both Palestinian and Israeli analysts said the appointment could make another conflict between the two sides more likely.

“I think it is an indication that we might see an escalation with the Israeli occupation in the coming stage,” said Abu Saada, the Gaza analyst.

“Sinwar is known to not accept any facilitation that eases the tense situation with the occupation,” Abu Saada said.

“We might see in the coming stage further provocations against Israel and violent responses against Gaza.”

Israel last year appointed hardline rightwinger Avigdor Lieberman as its defense minister.

After his appointment, he warned the next war with Gaza would be the last as “we will completely destroy them”.

Kobi Michael, an analyst and former head of the Palestinian desk at Israel’s strategic affairs ministry, said the appointment would alarm Israeli politicians.

“He represents the most radical and extreme line of Hamas,” he told reporters. “Sinwar believes in armed resistance. He doesn’t believe in any sort of cooperation with Israel.”

In the 2014 war, 2,251 Palestinians and 74 Israelis died.

The Jewish state maintains a crippling blockade on Gaza which it says is necessary to restrict Hamas’s ability to rearm but which the UN says amounts to collective punishment.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=81418.

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