Hamas Leader Sinwar Fends Off Challenger in Gaza Election

Jack Khoury
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Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, center, taking part in a then weekly protest on Gaza's border with Israel in 2018.
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, center, taking part in a then weekly protest on Gaza's border with Israel in 2018.Credit: Khalil Hamra / AP
Jack Khoury

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar will remain in post for a second term at the helm of the organization's political bureau, fending off his main challenger Nizar Awadallah in the second round of internal elections, which was held on Wednesday.

Awadallah conceded his defeat and said he would carry on performing his duties in the organization.

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he vote comes two and a half months before the first Palestinian general election in 15 years is scheduled to take place, followed by a presidential election later in the summer.

Sinwar was elected to the post in 2017, replacing Ismail Haniyeh. Including to a political source, there was great interest in these elections, in which 280 eligible voters cast ballots. Awadallah, one of Hamas' founder and a member its political bureau, was reported to have won the first round of voting by five votes.

An Awadallah victory would have been seen as a vote of no-confidence in Sinwar’s conduct and decisions in recent years, including his handling of the coronavirus crisis and his dealings with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the source added.

Hamas officials and political sources in Gaza also told Haaretz the attempt to remove Sinwar from power attests to an internal power struggle between a more conservative, hawkish faction, led by Awadallah, and Sinwar’s line of politics, which puts more emphasis on Palestinian nationalism.

Awadallah pushes for closer ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, whereas Sinwar aims for reconciliation with Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority and the West Bank.

"Sinwar's victory shows the man maintains a strong grip on things inside the movement, especially within its vital components such as the military wing," Gaza political analyst Adnan Abu Amer told Reuters.

"The win will enable Sinwar to pursue his policies, whether inside Gaza or with regional countries and the handling of the conflict with Israel."

According to officials in Gaza, leaked reports of Awadallah’s victory were seen by Sinwar’s followers as a provocation and possibly even an attempt to sway the final results.

Awadallah, who headed the Majma Al-Islami charity association on which Hamas was built for close to twenty years, and was also briefly the organization’s military chief in the late 1980s, is considered one of the architects of the deal that led to the release of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit. He was a close associate of both former politburo chief Khaled Meshal and Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. 

The elections for this position are being held as part of internal elections held in recent weeks by Hamas institutions in Gaza, the West Bank and abroad, as well as among the organization’s prisoners. The entire electoral process for all the organization's institutions is expected to conclude in the coming days.

Hamas has yet to elect a leader for the West Bank. Sources said his identity would be kept secret as protection against Israel or the administration of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a Hamas rival.

Filling the position of Hamas's political chief, who also speaks for its military wing, will require more time. The overall leader of Hamas is Ismail Haniyeh, who is also based in Gaza.

Haniyeh is facing a challenge this time by the former head of the group, Khaled Meshaal, who lives in Qatar.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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