Surprising machinations of Hamas's man in Gaza, Yehya Sinwar

A militant and politician who might be manoeuvring for the Palestinian leadership


It has been a week of surprising moves from Hamas — in particular, from its leader in Gaza, Yehya Sinwar.

“We are fully aware that some issues are resolved by popular resistance, but there are some issues that are also resolved diplomatically,” he said in a speech on Tuesday.

He elaborated by saying that Hamas must “build up and accumulate enough strength in many various areas” — which he said meant acting both  “on the ground” and “underground” to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. “Underground” has been widely taken to refer to diplomatic and political channels.

The speech came a day after Mr Sinwar said he had spoken to Qassem Soleimani,  commander of Iran’s Qod Force (which executes the regime’s clandestine and foreign military operations), who wants a new Intifada.

Israeli intelligence has detected efforts by Hamas to prevent other Islamist groups from firing rockets at Israel while itself trying to launch terror attacks against Israeli targets in the West Bank.

Mr Sinwar is in the problematic position of being both a political leader and a commander of Hamas’s military wing, at a time when its rocket arsenal and cross-border attack tunnels are losing their bite against Israel’s defence systems. Analysts believe that while he is no less of a militant, Mr Sinwar is a pragmatic politician who knows he has to cut his losses when necessary.

They say he has focused on entrenching his position as Hamas’ new leader and is preparing for a Palestinian leadership battle after President Mahmoud Abbas, 82, departs.

That might be why he criticised Fatah for not implementing the recent truce, while still committing Hamas to the terms of the deal between the two groups.

“Sinwar’s main motivation is the internal rivalries within Hamas,” said a senior Israeli intelligence official who repeatedly met Mr Sinwar when he was in jail.

“He is from Gaza and is now in charge of affairs there and therefore wants to supply the civilians’ needs. His main rival within Hamas, Salah Arouri, is in charge of trying to rebuild the military framework of Hamas in the West Bank, so Sinwar wants to be able to highlight Arouri’s failure there.”

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