Ismail Haniyeh
Ismail Haniyeh with supporters in Gaza. Photo by Reuters
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Hamas recently held secret elections for the leadership of the organization's Gaza political bureau, officials in the militant group told Haaretz. According to the officials, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh won the race by a significant margin.

The win in effect makes Haniyeh the Strip's first recognized Hamas political leader since Israel's assassination of Hamas' former Gaza political chief Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi in 2004.

Speaking to Haaretz, Hamas officials said that the utterly covert elections were held less than two weeks ago, in which voters elected the 77 members of the group's advisory council in Gaza, as well as the 15 members of the Strip's Hamas politburo, Gaza's most powerful political institution.

Other than bolstering Haniyeh's position, the Hamas elections marked several additional and interesting trends. First, two of those released as part of the Gilad Shalit swap deal quickly made their way into the groups' leadership.

Yehia Sanwar, one of Shalit's abductors, the brother of whom is considered to be one of the founders of Hamas' military wing, and Rawhi Mushtaha, his one-time deputy, were both elected to the Hamas' political bureau in the Strip.

Second, members of the "moderate wing," such as Razi Hamed, Ahmed Yousef, and Salah al-Bardawil did not succeed in getting elected, unlike members of the group's military wing, such as its head Mohammad Ali Jafari as well as Marwan Issa (Jafari joined the political bureau in the previous elections as well).

Another interesting development is the choice of Imad al-Alami – a former member of Hamas' Damascus bureau, who only recently arrived in Gaza after fleeing Syria, as Haniyeh's deputy.

Others elected to the political bureau were Khalil al-Hayeh, Nizar Awdallah, and Mahmoud Zahar, who clashed with the groups overseas' leadership several times in recent months.

Issam Dailes, considered a kind of Hamas finance minister, was unable to make the final list.

Next month, Hamas will hold general elections to the overall politburo, with every one of the group's chapters – Gaza, West Bank, and abroad – will choose six members out of the total 18 members of the general politburo. Those members, in turn, will elect the new Hamas chief.

Last December, Hamas chief Khaled Meshal indicated that he would not seek reelection as the organization's political leader in forthcoming elections.

There has been a widening rift between Hamas leaders in Gaza and those abroad. Palestinian analysts say Meshal recently realized that the Gaza leadership was determined to prevent his reappointment and decided instead to preempt them and quit.

Read this article in Hebrew