The leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, has been elected for another term, following a second round of voting on Wednesday, Hamas confirmed on Wednesday.
Sinwar has been reelected for a new term until 2025, said Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, currently based in Qatar, congratulated Sinwar on his reelection.
Sinwar won 167 of 280 votes, sources told the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds.
Sinwar’s victory came less than 24 hours after Gaza sources announced that Nizar Awadallah, a veteran Hamas official, had defeated Sinwar in the terrorist group’s secret internal election.
Shortly afterward, Awadallah, 63, was proclaimed the winner, but Hamas announced that a second round of voting would be held on Wednesday because he and Sinwar had failed to secure more than 50% of the overall vote.
Awadallah and Sinwar were among five candidates who contested the secret Hamas internal election. The other three candidates were Mahmoud Zahar, Fathi Hammad, and Ziyad al-Thatha.
Sources close to Hamas said that the neck-and-neck race constituted an unprecedented challenge to Sinwar’s leadership. He was first elected as the group’s leader in the coastal enclave in 2017.
“The tight battle between Sinwar and Awadallah could trigger a crisis among the Hamas leadership,” a Palestinian political analyst in the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post.
According to the analyst, the tight race is also a sign of Sinwar’s declining popularity among Hamas cadres in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas spokesman Abdel Latif Qanou said that the secret ballot was conducted in a “transparent, competitive and democratic manner.” The decision to hold a second round, he added, “reflected the strength of Hamas and its respect for its regulations.”
Sinwar, 58, was said to be the mastermind behind the Hamas-sponsored 2018-2019 mass protests staged near the border with Israel. The protests ended without achieving their main objective: lifting Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.
His 63-year-old rival, Awadallah, was one of the engineers of the 2011 Gilad Schalit prisoner exchange agreement, according to Palestinian sources.
The deal, also known as Wafa al-Ahrar (Faithful to the free), resulted in the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Schalit, an IDF soldier who was kidnapped in 2006 by Palestinian terrorists who tunneled under the border into Israel near the Kerem Shalom border crossing.