Hamas military hardliner elected group's Gaza chief

Freed Palestinian Hamas leader Yehia Sinwar (C) greets supporters following his release from an Israeli jail at a welcome tent near his home in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip, October 19, 2011
Said Khatib (AFP/File)
Yahyah Sinwar sat in Israeli jail for 22 years and was freed in the trade deal for Gilad Shalit

The Palestinian Gaza-based Islamist movement Hamas elected a hardline member of its armed wing as its new Gaza head Monday, Hamas officials said.

"Yahya Sinwar was elected to head the Hamas political office in the Gaza Strip", the officials said.

He will succeed Ismail Haniya, who is seen by many observers as the most likely successor to Hamas's current exiled leader Khaled Meshaal.

In September 2015, Sinwar was added to the US terrorism blacklist alongside two other members of Hamas's military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

A graduate in Arabic language, he was born in the Khan Younis refugee camp in southern Gaza and founded "Majd," one of Hamas's intelligence services.

Arrested by Israel in 1988 for "terrorist activity," Sinwar was sentenced to four life sentences before being released in October 2011 under an agreement to exchange more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured five years earlier.

Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip for a decade, has been conducting internal elections for several months.

Sinwar has struck a hard line, especially when it comes to the group's negotiations for prisoners held by Israel.

Upon his release from prison in 2011, Sinwar vowed to persevere until he had freed by force all remaining Hamas prisoners held by Israel, the Ha'aretz daily reports.

Tensions flared on Israel’s border with Gaza last week when Israel Defense Forces launched a series of retaliatory air strikes, in response to a rocket launched from the strip at Israel’s southern coast and gunshots fired at troops near the border fence.

Last week, Israeli aircraft and tanks struck a number of targets belonging to Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Israel would not tolerate even a “drizzle” of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.

“My policy is to respond strongly to any rocket fire,” Netanyahu said from London, where he was on a state visit. “We are firm in this response.”

The Israeli military confirmed the round of strikes saying it hit three Hamas positions.

"IAF targeted 3 Hamas posts in response to projectile fired at Israeli communities & attack against IDF earlier today," the army wrote on Twitter last week.

(Staff with agencies)

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