Sinwar's Leadership Under Threat as Hamas Holds Elections for Gaza Political Chief

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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

Hamas’ political bureau is holding elections Tuesday evening for the post of bureau head in Gaza, two and a half months before a Palestinian general election is scheduled.

The current head of Hamas in Gaza is Yahya Sinwar, who was elected to the post in 2017, replacing Ismail Haniyeh.

He is contending against one of Hamas’ founders, Nizar Awadallah, a member of the political bureau. Sources in the organization say that there are at least three more candidates. According to reports from Gaza, Awadallah won the first round by five votes, but needs another round to be elected to the post.

A political source in Hamas told Haaretz that there was great interest in these elections within the organization, and that some 280 eligible voters cast ballots.

He said that Awadallah’s election would be perceived 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.

Awadallah is considered one of the architects of the deal that led to the release of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit; he is considered close to the former political bureau head Khaled Meshal, and was part of the close circle of Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin. He was head of the group’s political bureau in Gaza during the period in which Haniyeh was the Hamas prime minister.

From 1982 to 2000, Awadallah headed the Majma Al-Islami charity association on which Hamas was built, and led the organization’s military apparatus in 1987. He was arrested by Israel several times for involvement in terror activity and was imprisoned from 1989 to 1995. His home was bombed by the Israel Air Force in the Gaza war of 2008-2009 and the Gaza war of 2014.

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.

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