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HomeAuslandHamas Leader Jihia al-Sinwar: "Merciless, psychopathic character" - Israel aims to eliminate...

Hamas Leader Jihia al-Sinwar: “Merciless, psychopathic character” – Israel aims to eliminate this man

This man is at the top of Israel’s hit list: the leader of the Islamist Palestinian organization Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Jihia al-Sinwar. The 61-year-old, along with all others responsible for the massacre on October 7th, are doomed to die, said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sinwar, a wiry, bearded man with closely cropped white hair, bushy dark eyebrows, and striking features, belongs to the founding generation of Hamas.

Born in 1962 in the refugee camp of Chan Junis in the southern Gaza Strip, his family originates from the area of the coastal city of Aschkelon, now within Israeli territory.

Sinwar known as “Butcher of Chan Junis”

Hamas was formed during the first Palestinian uprising Intifada in the late 1980s in the struggle against the Israeli occupation. Sinwar was also involved in building the military arm of Hamas, the Kassam Brigades.

During his imprisonment, Sinwar positioned himself as a leadership figure and also ordered murders of other inmates, said Professor Kobi Michael of the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).

Sinwar reportedly in critical condition due to a brain abscess – Israeli doctors reportedly saved his life with a surgical procedure.

In 2011, Sinwar was released – one of over 1000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit. Sinwar’s brother was allegedly involved in the abduction of the soldier in 2006. Netanyahu faced repeated criticism for the Schalit deal.

Following his release, Sinwar was responsible for bridging the gap between the military and political wings of Hamas. He then became the Hamas chief in the Gaza Strip in 2017. Since then, he has repeatedly attempted to lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip intensified by Israel in 2006, which was also supported by Egypt over the years. This included resorting to violent protests at the separation fence.

Sinwar’s attempt to “turn the tables” using extreme force

The Hamas Charter is extreme and calls for the destruction of Israel, said Palestinian journalist and Hamas expert Mohammed Daraghmeh. However, Sinwar had at least temporarily taken a more pragmatic stance.

In 2017, Hamas presented slightly adjusted political positions in a fundamental paper. They hinted at the willingness to temporarily accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.

However, Hamas simultaneously reaffirmed its commitment to armed resistance against Israel, its claim to all of historical Palestine, and the demand for the return of Palestinian refugees. At the time, experts interpreted the release of the paper as an attempt by Hamas to break out of international isolation.

Daraghmeh sees the massacre on October 7 as Sinwar’s attempt to “turn the tables” using extreme force. He had reached a point “where he thought that Israel would never give the Palestinians a state and the West would never recognize Hamas.”

Within the Gaza Strip, faced with an economic crisis, the population’s dissatisfaction had been growing. “Everyone complained, those who could leave Gaza, left Gaza.”

“Hamas fighters have committed atrocities in Israeli villages”

Hamas had been internationally isolated, while there were talks about Israel approaching Saudi Arabia. This was accompanied by provocations by members of the right-wing religious government in Israel on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and concerns about the annexation of further territories in the West Bank. This is also why Sinwar tried to “break Israel’s will with violence.”

However, Daraghmeh believes that Sinwar had miscalculated. “Hamas fighters have committed atrocities in Israeli villages, the international community was on Israel’s side, and the Americans sent aircraft carriers to the region.” Sinwar seemingly also expected stronger support from the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah and Iran.

Michael also believes that Sinwar “had a strategic plan to activate all fronts against Israel.” The goal was “a pincer movement that would lead to the collapse of Israel”. The “Axis of Resistance” under Iranian leadership aimed for a long-term war of attrition that would economically and socially cripple Israel.

“They assume that Israel is a western society that is not resilient enough to handle it.” Michael also thinks that Sinwar was surprised by the strong US reaction and the relatively weak support from Hezbollah and Iran.

Fighting until the end

Netanyahu said about Sinwar that he does not care about the fate of his people and behaves “like a little Hitler in his bunker”. Michael also believes that Sinwar “has no problem sacrificing his own people”.

Daraghmeh also assumes that Sinwar and the rest of the Hamas leadership are hiding in the tunnel system in the Gaza Strip. “They have been preparing for this for months, if not years,” says Daraghmeh. “They expected the invasion.”

Both experts consider it very unlikely that Sinwar and other Hamas leaders could surrender in the fight. “They will fight until the end,” says Daraghmeh. “They believe they will go to heaven if they die as martyrs.”

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