Hamas’s political wing has appointed a temporary leader in Gaza, until official leadership elections can be held in the coming months.
Imad al-Alami, a 60 year old Hamas veteran whose public profile has been fairly low until now, will fill the void left by Hamas political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, who left the Gaza in September for a series of meetings with leaders in Arab and Muslim states. Haniyeh is reportedly set to replace Khaled Mashaal as head of Hamas’s political bureau in Qatar, to which he can be elected at the end of this year. Haniyeh’s participation in a recent meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Mashaal, indicates he is preparing for the top job.
Alami was born in Gaza and expelled by Israel to Lebanon in 1991. He lived in Iran and Syria, raising the prospect that his appointment could help to bring Hamas closer to these two states. Hamas’s relationship with Assad has been difficult since the Syrian civil war, and relations with Iran are strained by the Sunni-Shia antipathy. However, Alami has historically close ties to both Hezbollah leader Nasrallah and Iran, and was the last Hamas member to leave Damascus.
Alami is on the list of six senior Hamas leaders who were designated as terrorists by the U.S. government in 2003.
In related Hamas news, it has been reported the organisation’s relations with Egypt have recently thawed, following the introduction of more flexible opening hours of the Rafah border crossing and economic initiatives – including a free trade zone at the crossing, effectively lifting the blockade imposed by both Israel and Egypt to prevent Hamas stockpiling weaponry. This change in relations may be connected to Hamas seeking to crack down on Salafist insurgents in Sinai who threaten both Egyptian security and whose attacks on Israel invite Israeli responses on Hamas targets.