Ismail Haniyeh has been re-elected as leader of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, officials said Sunday, strengthening his control over the organization that rules the Gaza Strip and has fought multiple violent conflicts with Israel.
Haniyeh, Hamas chief since 2017, has largely controlled the group’s political activities in Gaza, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the diaspora from outside Gaza, dividing his time between Turkey and Qatar for the past two years.
He led Hamas into an 11-day conflict with Israel in May that killed more than 250 in Gaza and 13 in Israel. An Egypt-brokered ceasefire has largely held up since then.
“Brother Ismail Haniyeh has been re-elected for the second time as head of the movement’s political bureau,” a Palestinian official told Reuters after an internal election by party members. His term is four years.
Haniyeh, 58, was the right-hand man of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in Gaza before the wheelchair-bound cleric was assassinated in 2004.
Haniyeh led Hamas’s entry into politics in 2006, when they were surprise winners in the 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 – considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel and the European Union – was shunned by the international community.
After a brief civil war, Hamas seized Gaza in 2007 from the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, which has restricted self-government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Israel has since led a blockade of Gaza, citing threats from Hamas.
Haniyeh’s victory surpasses internal elections with the group’s Gaza chief Yehya Al-Sinwar also winning a second term in March.
Further votes were delayed by the increase in violence in May.