Middle East

Hamas elects military hardliner to lead Gaza

The governing militant group has tapped a leading military figure to head Hamas' political office in Gaza. Analysts have described the new political leader as the "most radical and extreme line of Hamas."

Yahya Sinwar

The Palestinian militant group Hamas on Monday elected an influential military figure as its new leader in the Gaza Strip, an official media outlet of the group reported.

Yahya Sinwar, who served as the leading figure of Hamas' armed wing the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, had been held in Israeli jail for more than 20 years before his release in 2011.

He had been arrested in the early 1990s for his involvement in the kidnapping and murder of Israeli soldier Nachson Wachsman. In exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Israel released 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, including Sinwar.

In 2015, the US added Sinwar to its terrorism watchlist, accusing him of pushing for Hamas fighters to kidnap more Israeli soldiers for use as bargaining chips in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

Sinwar will succeed Hamas political leader and former Prime Minister Ismail Haniya as the head of the militant group's political office in Gaza.

'Radical and extreme'

The appointment has prompted concerns in Israel that Hamas may push for another escalation of hostilities. Since 2008, Hamas has fought three wars against Israeli forces.

Kobi Michael, an analyst and former head of the Palestinian desk at Israel strategic affairs ministry, said Sinwar's accession to political power is a "concerning indication of destabilization in the region."

"He represents the most radical and extreme line of Hamas," Michael told reporters after the announcement.

"Sinwar believes in armed resistance. He doesn't believe in any sort of cooperation with Israel," he added.

ls/rc (AFP, dpa)

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