Who is Yehiya Sinwar, the Hamas chief focused by Israel in Gaza | EUROtoday

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JERUSALEM — From throughout the interrogation desk in an Israeli jail Yehiya Sinwar coldly recounted ugly particulars of his murders.

The yr was 1989. The future Hamas chief, then the group’s inner enforcer, can be convicted of killing 4 fellow Palestinians.

He described making a Hamas member name his brother — a suspected collaborator — to rearrange a meetup, recalled Michael Koubi, who spent greater than 150 hours questioning him for Shin Bet, Israel’s home intelligence company. Sinwar made the fighter bury his brother alive.

He confirmed “no emotion at all,” stated Koubi. “I saw a man that was very clever … and he really believed in everything he did.”

The particulars of the 61-year-old’s ruthless techniques as a younger man when he headed the Majd, Hamas’s inner safety drive, make clear the chief he would change into — devoted to the destruction of Israel and accused of masterminding the Oct. 7 assault on the nation’s south, the place militants killed 1,200 folks and kidnapped practically 250 others.

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Now, he’s on the high of Israel’s hit record in Gaza, regarded as hiding in its huge underground tunnel community as Israeli forces scour the tiny enclave and pummel it with airstrikes. The struggle has killed greater than 17,700 Palestinians in simply two months, based on Gaza’s Health Ministry, and it’s unlikely to finish till Sinwar is useless or captured.

Interrogation transcripts and the accounts of Israeli safety officers, fellow prisoners and others who’ve met him level to an uncompromising strategist with a penchant for shut quarter killing, formed by a harsh upbringing in a Palestinian refugee camp and a long time in Israeli detention. He spent his 22 years in jail intently learning his enemy, pouring over books on Israeli politics and studying fluent Hebrew.

To perceive Sinwar, one should first perceive the place he got here from, stated his former jail mate Esmat Mansour.

“He said his family lived in tragedy,” Mansour recalled. “He said these memories wouldn’t leave him.”

Sinwar was born in Gaza’s Khan Younis refugee camp in 1962. His household was compelled out of the Palestinian city of Madjal within the wake of Israel’s 1948 struggle for independence, a interval identified to Arabs because the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” when lots of of hundreds of Palestinians had been displaced.

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After Madjal was emptied of its Palestinian inhabitants — the final residents had been deported in 1950 — Israel renamed the town Ashkelon. Sinwar would later spend time in jail there.

By the time he was born, the refugee tents among the many sand dunes at Khan Younis had been changed by small cinder block homes, however situations had been nonetheless dire.

Sinwar talked in regards to the lack of sanitation and the battle to reside on U.N. handouts, stated Mansour.

“He’d always go back to these stories when he’d tell us to struggle against the occupation,” stated Mansour. Sinwar fiercely opposed the 1993 Oslo accords, the U.S.-brokered settlement that outlined a two-state answer to the battle.

“He was a radical,” Mansour stated. “He wanted to fight back.”

He was first arrested by Israel in 1982 as a college scholar on the Islamic University in Gaza, the place he was a founding member of Hamas’s scholar motion, stated Ibrahim al-Madhoun, a Hamas-affiliated columnist. He described Sinwar as “unwavering in his decisions, even if they are harsh.”

Sinwar was lively through the first intifada, or rebellion towards Israel, which started in Gaza in 1987. He grew to become near Hamas’s founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, praying on the identical mosque with him in Gaza City.

He was detained once more in 1988 after being injured when an improvised explosive gadget he was making went off, stated Koubi. It was solely in jail that his function within the killing of Gazans suspected of collaborating with Israel emerged.

“The first day, he was very tough, he didn’t want to say anything,” stated Koubi, including that he finally confessed to 12 killings, however was solely convicted on 4 counts.

While Israel is infamous for its harsh interrogation methods, Koubi stated Sinwar was not bodily abused. It was not attainable to confirm his claims.

In a 10-page transcript from his interrogation held at Israel’s Supreme Court and later printed by Israeli media, Sinwar described strangling victims to demise. Koubi stated he additionally appreciated to make use of a machete; some Gazans nicknamed him the “Butcher of Khan Younis.”

He describes killing one suspected collaborator in an open grave within the native cemetery. “I tied his eyes with a rag so he couldn’t see, put him in a large grave I saw, and suffocated him with a rag,” the transcript reads, based on excerpts printed by Israel Hayom. “After strangling him, I wrapped him in a white cloth and closed the grave.”

Koubi stated he was not stunned by the brutality of the Oct. 7 assault: “He has very deep hate.”

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Sinwar rapidly rose via the ranks of Hamas after being launched from jail in 2011 together with 1,026 different Palestinian prisoners in alternate for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. But it was in jail that he constructed his affect.

“He didn’t come from nowhere,” stated Mkhaimar Abu Sada, a professor in politics at Gaza’s Al Azhar University.

At first he held little clout within the Israeli penal system, the place prisoners are divided into numerous Palestinian factions. But even on the within, he continued to hunt for collaborators with Israel, Mansour and Koubi stated.

As Hamas grew extra outstanding within the Palestinian political scene, Sinwar’s star started to rise.

Around the time of the second intifada, he was elected Hamas’s chief within the jail, the place he led strikes in an effort to enhance situations for inmates.

In June 2006, Sinwar’s youthful brother, Muhammad Sinwar, was suspected of enjoying a key function within the cross-border raid that led to Shalit’s seize.

“When Hamas got stronger, and they kidnapped Shalit, he became the one man show,” stated Mansour.

He no was now not taken with assembly with jail authorities, Mansour stated, as an alternative holding courtroom with Israeli intelligence and different officers looking for Shalit’s launch.

When Sinwar was launched, he addressed cheering crowds in Gaza City, calling on Hamas to free these remaining in Israeli jails. “This must turn immediately into a practical plan,” he stated. He stays deeply invested within the plight of Palestinian prisoners, based on those that know him, which doubtless helped drive the mass kidnappings of Israelis on Oct. 7.

In public interviews earlier than the assault — together with one with an Israeli newspaper in 2018 — he stated he was not looking for confrontation. “I don’t want any more wars,” he advised Yedioth Ahronoth. But different feedback had been extra excessive, stated Abu Sada, pointing to a name by Sinwar final yr for Palestinians to hold out lone wolf assaults with cleavers, axes and knives.

By becoming a member of the political wing of Hamas, he successfully blurred the excellence between the group’s fighters and officers, stated Shlomi Eldar, an Israeli journalist who authored a 2012 e-book on Hamas and interviewed a few of its most senior officers.

“He changed the movement,” stated Eldar. None of the group’s different leaders would have orchestrated an assault on the dimensions of Oct. 7, he stated, fearing the backlash. But Sinwar is totally different: “The only explanation I can give is that it’s his personality.”

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In his gamble, others suspect he was making an attempt to place himself because the chief of the Palestinian trigger, a job he had lengthy sought. “I felt like he was saying, ‘I am Yasser Arafat 2,’” stated one Palestinian official who met Sinwar a number of occasions.

“No one can deny that he recorded his name in history on the one hand and changed the static situation that Israel adopted to deal with the Palestinians,” the official stated, talking on the situation of anonymity to debate the delicate conferences.

Israel says Sinwar is a “dead man walking,” and it’s only a matter of time earlier than their forces meet up with him.

As the manhunt intensifies, the Hamas chief is probably going surrounded by an inside circle of confidants — together with his brother Mohammed, who faked his demise in 2014 however has since reemerged.

“He will fight until the end,” stated Koubi.

Balousha reported from Amman.