JERUSALEM, Israel – A convicted Palestinian terrorist released during the lopsided 2011 prisoner exchange for former Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit will replace outgoing Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.
Yahya Sinwar, 55, a founding member of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas "military wing," hails from Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip.
In 1988, Sinwar was sentenced to four life terms for terror-related offenses, including the kidnapping and murder of two IDF soldiers. At the time of his release, he had served 22 years. Since then, he has climbed to the top of the Hamas infrastructure to become its most formidable figure in Gaza.
Officials across the political spectrum see Sinwar as a destabilizing force in the region. His position is considered more extreme than any of his peers.
For instance, he was against the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit because he thought it favored Israel too much.
MK Avi Dichter, who served as director of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) during the second intifada (2000 through 2004), said Sinwar "lives for killing."
"Even when he was in prison he continued his activities," Dichter said. "This appearance that Hamas has a political branch and a military branch was always wrong and today it's officially gone," he said, The Jerusalem Post reported.
Dichter said his appointment makes it clear that Israel "… should strengthen our abilities to destroy [the] Hamas infrastructures in Gaza because they might use them sooner than we thought."
Even among his fellow jihadists, Sinwar's reputation as a ruthless killer is well known. He's thought to have masterminded the assassination of a senior Hamas battalion commander last year in what was perceived as an internal power struggle.