Ismail Haniya has been re-elected as leader of the Palestinian group Hamas, officials have said, cementing his control of the organisation which rules the besieged Gaza Strip.
Haniya, Hamas chief since 2017, has controlled the group’s political activities in Gaza, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the diaspora largely from outside Gaza, splitting his time between Turkey and Qatar for the past two years. He has not said whether he will return.
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He directed Hamas in an 11-day conflict with Israel in May in which more than 250 people were killed in Gaza and 13 in Israel. An Egyptian-mediated ceasefire has mostly held since.
“Brother Ismail Haniya was re-elected as the head of the movement’s political office for a second time,” a Palestinian official told Reuters news agency on Sunday following an internal election by party members. He won unopposed. His term will last four years.
Aged 58, Haniya was the right-hand man to Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in Gaza, before the wheelchair-bound leader of the armed group was assassinated in 2004 in an Israeli air attack.
Haniya led Hamas’s entry into politics in 2006, when they were the surprise victors in Palestinian parliamentary elections, defeating a divided Fatah party led by President Mahmoud Abbas.
He became prime minister shortly after the January 2006 victory, but Hamas – which is deemed a “terrorist organisation” by the United States, Israel and the European Union – was shunned by the international community.
Following a brief civil war, Hamas seized Gaza from the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in the West Bank, in 2007. Israel has led a blockade of Gaza since then, citing threats from Hamas.
Haniya’s victory caps internal elections that also saw the group’s Gaza chief, Yahya Sinwar, win a second term in March.
Further votes were delayed by May’s surge in violence.
Hamas is an Islamic movement that has faced four major Israeli military assaults since taking control of Gaza in 2007, most recently in May, and numerous smaller battles over the years.
The repeated fighting, combined with an Egyptian-Israeli blockade, has decimated Gaza’s economy, with unemployment hovering around 50 percent.