O leader of the Palestinian Islamist movement in Gaza, aged 61, is considered the ‘architect’ of October 7th: on that day, hundreds of Hamas commandos attacked ‘kibbutzes’, military bases and a music festival in Israel, in the worst attack against civilians since the creation of the Israeli State in 1948.
According to Israel, 1,200 people were killed and around 240 were taken hostage.
“It was his strategy, he was the one who set up the operation”, probably over the course of a year or two, Leila Seurat, researcher at the Arab Center for Research and Political Studies (CAREP), in Paris, told Agence France-Presse (AFP). .
The ascetic man with white hair, but with full and still very black eyebrows, “imposed his rhythm to change the balance of forces on the ground and caught everyone by surprise”, said Seurat.
The leader of Hamas – who is now “the face of the devil” or “the man with a target on his back”, in the words of the Israeli army – has not appeared in public since October.
“He is the security man par excellence”, who as a “charismatic leader”, “takes decisions with the greatest calm”, Abu Abdallah, a former Hamas prisoner, told AFP when Sinwar assumed leadership of Hamas in 2017.
In 1987, the first Intifada, the revolt against Israeli occupation known as “The War of Stones”, broke out in a refugee camp in the north of the Gaza Strip. The boy, born in Khan Younis, a camp in the south of the territory, joined the newly founded Hamas.
At the age of 25, he was already head of the Jihad and Preaching Organization, the Hamas intelligence unit that punishes “collaborators”, the Palestinians punished for conspiring with the Israeli enemy.
In 1988, he founded Majd, Hamas’ internal security service. Arrested the following year, in 1989, he became the leader of the prisoners. Sentenced to life imprisonment several times, he was released in 2011 with a thousand other prisoners in exchange for soldier Gilad Shalit, a Hamas hostage for five years. Even today, the trauma remains in Israeli society and the Israeli state apparatus.
Sinwar saw Israel eliminate his mentors, including Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Salah Chehadé, founder of the Ezzedine al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, of which he is considered the ‘right arm’. Included on the North American list of “international terrorists”, he was the target of numerous assassination attempts.
Elected head of Hamas in Gaza in 2017, he has a strategy that is “radical in military terms and pragmatic in political terms”, explains Seurat. “Does not defend force for the sake of force, but the strength to take [os israelitas] to negotiations”.
Israeli media outlets published extracts from their interrogations. In them, he says he kidnapped a traitor. “We took him to the cemetery of Khan Younis […]I put him in a grave and strangled him with a keffiyeh [lenço palestiniano]. She was sure that he knew he deserved to die.”
Politically, he dreams of a united Palestinian leadership for all the Occupied Territories: the Gaza Strip, currently held by Hamas in the south, the West Bank, of which Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah holds entire sections in the north, and East Jerusalem.
“[Yahya Sinwar] has made it clear that it will punish anyone who tries to prevent reconciliation with Fatah”, says the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).
In the year he was elected head of Hamas, the movement accepted the principle of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, but maintained as its ultimate objective the “liberation” of the entire territory of Palestine in 1948, including current Israeli territory.
The Hamas attack on October 7 began with the destruction of the checkpoint on the border with the Gaza Strip, which has been under blockade since 2007. According to the Hamas Ministry of Health, the Israeli reaction has already provoked more than 22,000 deaths, with two thirds of the victims being women and children.
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