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Hamas: Who are the Group’s Most Prominent Leaders?

Since Hamas blindsided Israel with its most ambitious attack ever launched from Gaza, questions have been raised over who masterminded the deadly invasion.

Many of the highest-ranking men belonging to the militant Palestinian group controlling Gaza keep a low public profile, while others have spent much of their lives evading assassination attempts by Israel.

These are Hamas’s most prominent leaders.

Ismail Haniyeh

Ismail Haniyeh
Image caption,Haniyeh is considered the overall leader of Hamas

Ismail Haniyeh is widely considered Hamas’s overall leader.

A prominent member of the movement in the late 1980s, Israel imprisoned Haniyeh for three years in 1989 as it cracked down on the first Palestinian uprising.

He was then exiled to in 1992 to a no-man’s-land between Israel and Lebanon, along with a number of Hamas leaders.

After a year in exile, he returned to Gaza. In 1997 he was appointed head of the office of Hamas’s spiritual leader, strengthening his position.

Haniyeh was appointed Palestinian prime minister in 2006 by President Mahmoud Abbas after Hamas won the most seats in national elections, but was dismissed a year later after the group ousted Mr Abbas’ Fatah party from the Gaza Strip in a week of deadly violence.

Haniyeh rejected his sacking as “unconstitutional”, stressing that his government “would not abandon its national responsibilities towards the Palestinian people”, and continued to rule in Gaza.

He was elected head of Hamas’s political bureau in 2017.

In 2018, the US Department of State designated Haniyeh a terrorist. He has lived in Qatar for the past several years.


Yahya Sinwar

Yahya Sinwar
Image caption,In September 2015, the United States included Sinwar’s name on its blacklist of “international terrorists”

The leader of the Hamas movement within the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, was born in 1962.

He is the founder of the Hamas security service known as Majd, which manages internal security matters, investigates suspected Israeli agents and tracks down Israeli intelligence and security services officers.

Sinwar has been arrested three times. After his third arrest in 1988 he was sentenced to four life terms in prison.

However, he was among 1,027 Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners released by Israel in exchange for an Israeli soldier held captive for over five years by Hamas.

Sinwar returned to his position as a prominent leader in Hamas and was appointed head of the group’s political bureau in the Gaza Strip in 2017.

In 2015, the US included Sinwar on its blacklist of “international terrorists”.


Mohammed Deif

Mohammed Deif
Image caption,Deif has near-mythical status in Gaza because of his ability to evade assassination

Mohammed Deif leads the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military arm of the Hamas movement.

He is a shadowy figure known to Palestinians as The Mastermind, and to Israelis as The Cat with Nine Lives.

Israeli authorities imprisoned him in 1989, after which he formed the al-Qassam Brigades with the aim of capturing Israeli soldiers.

After his release, he helped engineer the construction of tunnels that have allowed Hamas fighters to get inside Israel from Gaza,

Deif is one of Israel’s most-wanted men, accused of planning and supervising bus bombings which killed tens of Israelis in 1996, and of involvement in the capture and killing of three Israeli soldiers in the mid-1990s.

Israel imprisoned him in 2000, but he escaped at the beginning of the second Palestinian uprising, or intifada.

Since then, he has left behind little trace. There are three known pictures of him: one is dated, he is masked in the second, and the third is of his shadow.

The most serious assassination attempts on his life were in 2002: Deif survived but lost one of his eyes. Israel says he also lost a foot and a hand, and that he has difficulty speaking.

Israeli security forces again failed to assassinate Deif during a 2014 assault on the Gaza Strip, but killed his wife and two of his children.


Marwan Issa

Marwan Issa
Image caption,Issa is thought to have played a significant role in the recent attack

Marwan Issa, or the Shadow Man and Mohammed Deif’s right-hand man, is the deputy commander-in-chief of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

Israeli forces detained him during the first intifada for five years due to his activity with Hamas.

The Palestinian Authority arrested Issa in 1997, but he was freed after the second intifada in 2000.

He was on Israel’s most-wanted list, and was injured when Israel attempted to assassinate him in 2006.

Israeli warplanes also destroyed his house twice during invasions of Gaza in 2014 and 2021, killing his brother.

It was not known what Issa looked like until 2011, when he appeared in a group photo taken during a reception for exchanged prisoners.

He is thought to have played a significant role in planning incursions into Israel, including the most recent.


Khaled Meshaal

Khaled Meshaal
Image caption,Meshaal is one of the founders of Hamas

Khaled Meshaal, who was born in the West Bank in 1956, is considered one of the founders of Hamas.

Under direct instructions from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Mossad spy agency attempted to assassinate Meshaal in 1997 while he was living in Jordan,

Mossad agents entered Jordan with forged Canadian passports and Meshaal was injected with a toxic substance while walking along a street.

Jordanian authorities discovered the assassination attempt and arrested two Mossad members.

The late King Hussein of Jordan asked Israel’s PM for the antidote for the substance Meshaal was injected with. Facing pressure from then US President Bill Clinton, Mr Netanyahu provided the antidote after initially rejecting the request.

Meshaal, who lives in Qatar, visited the Gaza Strip for the first time in 2012. He was received by Palestinian officials and crowds of Palestinians came out to welcome him.

Hamas elected Ismail Haniyeh to succeed Meshaal as head of its political bureau in 2017, and Meshaal became head of the group’s political bureau abroad.


Mahmoud Zahar

Mahmoud Zahar
Image caption,Zahar survived an Israeli assassination attempt in 2003

Mahmoud Zahar was born in Gaza in 1945 to a Palestinian father and an Egyptian mother. He is considered one of Hamas’ most prominent leaders, and a member of the movement’s political leadership.

He went to school in Gaza and university in Cairo, then worked as a doctor in Gaza and Khan Younis until Israeli authorities dismissed him over his political position.

Mahmoud Zahar was held in Israeli prisons in 1988, months after the founding of Hamas. He was among those deported by Israel to no-man’s land in 1992, where he spent a year.

With the Hamas movement winning Palestinian general elections in 2006, Zahar joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s newly formed government before its eventual dismissal.

Israel attempted to assassinate Zahar in 2003, when a plane dropped a bomb on his house in Gaza City. The attack left him with minor injuries, but killed his eldest son, Khaled.

His second son, Hossam, who was a member of the al-Qassam Brigades, was killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza in 2008.

Source : BBC