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Yahya Sinwar re-elected as Hamas chief in Gaza

Sinwar beat four other challengers to lead Hamas in the besieged Gaza Strip
Yahya Sinwar has run the Gaza Strip since 2017.
Yahya Sinwar has run the Gaza Strip since 2017 (AFP)

Yahya Sinwar was re-elected as the leader of Hamas's political wing in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, fending off a challenge from one of the groups' founders, the movement said in a statement.

"Yahya Sinwar has been elected for a second term as head of Hamas's Gaza political bureau, from 2021 to 2025," said Hamas spokesperson Hazim Qasim.

Sinwar won the top position in Hamas's Gaza politburo after beating four other challengers including Nizar Awadallah, a confidant to Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and a former leader in the coastal enclave.

Sources told the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds that Sinwar won 167 of 280 votes in the second round of voting.

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In a statement following the tense election standoff, Hamas's overall chief Ismail Haniyeh praised the internal vote as "real elections, not purely for show".

"With transparency and integrity, everyone accepts its results," Haniyeh said.

A former commander of Hamas's military wing, Sinwar has led the movement's political branch in Gaza since 2017. He was previously held in an Israeli prison for two decades before being released in 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange. 

Conditions in Gaza have deteriorated drastically since Israel and Egypt began an ongoing siege of the Palestinian enclave following the 2006 election.

More than two million Palestinians are packed into the Strip which has been described as "the world's largest open-air prison".

Sinwar's election comes ahead of long-awaited legislative, presidential and National Council elections - which are scheduled to take place between May and August.

According to the Haaretz newspaper, Israel's internal intelligence agency Shin Bet has been intimidating members and supporters of Hamas in the occupied West Bank and warning them against running in the vote.

The movement has a strong chance of winning the majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament amid splits inside the rival Fatah movement and the Palestinian Authority leadership.