Yahya Sinwar
Leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar (centre), with his son during a Hamas festival in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip in 2016 Getty Images

The appointment of Yahya Sinwar has raised fears that Hamas may be heading towards a new round of confrontation with Israel. Sinwar's election comes amid a wide-ranging changing of the guard in the group's 15-member political bureau, precipitated by an announcement by Khaled Mashaal that he would step down this year.

Yahya Sinwar fact file

  • Born: 1962
  • Birthplace: Khan Yunis refugee camp
  • Nationality: Palestinian
  • First arrested: 1982
  • Joined Hamas: 1985

Who is Yahya Sinwar?

A hardline military veteran who spent 22 years inside an Israeli prison Sinwar has been elected head of Hamas in Gaza. Now 55, he was the leader and one of the founding members of the Qassim Brigades – Hamas' military wing.

The election of the former military head has been seen as warning to Israel by analysts. Sinwar represents not only a stronger military influence over the leadership in Gaza but he has also been recognised as one of the more hardline leaders in al-Qassim.

During the 1980s Sinwar formed the Majd security organisation which worked to identify Palestinians collaborating with Israel. In 1989 he was jailed for his role in the killings of collaborators and served more than two decades in Israeli jail.

He was finally released as part of a prisoner swap organised by his brother Mohammed, also a Qassim leader, in the "Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange". The Israeli soldier, who was held by Hamas for five years, was traded for 1,027 prisoners.

Since Hamas took control of the Gaza strip in 2007, Sinwar has been a vocal critic of more moderate civilian leaders. Following the 2014 Gaza-Israel conflict he called for Hamas to take better advantage of the escalating military situation.

How will Sinwar's election affect the outlook of Hamas?

Hugh Lovatt, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign relations, told IBTimes UK that while Sinwar's appointment had important implications for the internal workings of the Hamas machine, the question of who is to fill more senior roles in the wider Palestinian territories would shape the trajectory of the group for years to come.

"The ongoing reconciliation efforts will not depend on Sinwar. Their continuation and success or lack thereof will depend on who the new chairman is and who the other senior politburo members are," Lovatt explained.

"Hamas is trying to show that it is more pragmatic but as long as this continues to hit a brick wall in terms of western reactions, in terms of Fatah reactions, in terms of lack of progress in Gaza and humanitarian crises, I think one would have to anticipate at some point that the more hardline elements will increasingly try to assert themselves," he said.

Gaza Strike Israel Palestine
Smoke and debris from an Israeli explosion rise above the northern Gaza Strip during the 2014 Gaza-Israel conflict Reuters