Ismail Haniyeh

Ismail Haniyeh

 

Ismail Haniyeh is the head of the Hamas political wing in Gaza, and became Palestinian prime minister in 2006. A subsequent split between Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction has left Haniyeh in charge in Gaza, while Salam Fayyad has been named prime minister by the West Bank-based Abbas.

Haniyeh was born in the Al-Shati refugee camp in the Gaza Strip in 1962. His parents were originally from Majdal (now the Israeli city of Ashkelon), but fled during the War of Independence in 1948.

In 1987, Haniyeh graduated from the Islamic University of Gaza - where he became active with Islamic student movements - with a degree in Arabic literature. In 1989, already a member of Hamas, he was imprisoned for three years by Israeli authorities for his activities during the first Intifada.

Following his release in 1992, Haniyeh was deported to Lebanon with Hamas spiritual leader and co-founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, and some 400 other Hamas members. Haniyeh returned to the Gaza Strip in 1993 and was appointed as dean of the Islamic University. In 1997, Yassin made Haniyeh his assistant.

As he rose through the ranks of Hamas, Haniyeh was also reportedly involved in terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. As a result, the Israel Air Force targeted Haniyeh in 2003 following a suicide bombing in Jerusalem. Haniyeh escaped the assassination attempt unharmed, as did Yassin and Hamas bombmaker Mohammad Deif, who were in the house with Haniyeh at the time.

Yassin would later be killed in a missile strike in Gaza (2004), while Deif has reportedly survived - albeit with reportedly severe injuries - a handful of Israeli assassination attempts. Rantisis, who became Hamas leader after Yassin's death, was also assassinated by Israel.

Haniyeh headed the Hamas list in the 2006 general elections in the Palestinian territories list. He took office later that year after Hamas won the majority of votes against Fatah. But the ongoing policy disputes between the two factions came to a head in 2007, resulting in a brutal power struggle for control of Gaza, won by Hamas. Following the Hamas seizure of power in Gaza, Abbas fired Haniyeh as prime minister, something Haniyeh said was an illegal act.

While some analysts view Haniyeh as leader of a more moderate faction within Hamas (Israel, the United States and the European Union class the entire movement as a terrorist organization) these policies tend to relate to his views on power-sharing with Fatah. On Israel, Haniyeh has historically been a proponent of an armed struggle, including against civilian targets.

Hamas, which has never recognized Israel's right to exist nor the 1993 Oslo Accords signed by Israel and the PLO, strives to instill Islamic Sharia law in all of pre-1948 Palestine.

Haaretz reported in March 2010 that Hamas was facing threats to its power base in Gaza from more extremist Islamic groups, which do not recognize the cease-fire agreement signed by Israel and Hamas after Operation Cast Lead. In one incident, the report says, operatives from one of the fundamentalist groups set off three explosive charges in the Shati refugee camp, not far from Haniyeh's home.