Meet Yahya Sinwar: After 24 years in Israeli jail, he led Hamas attacks

| Updated: 17 October, 2023 4:27 pm IST
Meet Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader who IDF identifies as the mastermind behind recent attacks.

As the conflict between Israel and Hamas escalates, one person has become a top target for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Referred to by the IDF as ‘The Butcher of Khan Younis,’ Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar is now among the most wanted criminals in Israel.

The IDF declared Yahya Sinwar a direct enemy of the state of Israel and shared a series of posts on X (formerly Twitter), offering insights into Sinwar’s speeches and actions. In these videos, the IDF pointed to Sinwar as the mastermind behind numerous Hamas terror attacks, including the most recent one.

But who is Yahya Sinwar?

Sinwar is an Arab-Muslim whose family hails from Ashkelon, formerly known as al-Majdal before Israel’s takeover in 1948. After the formation of Israel, his family relocated to the Gaza Strip, specifically in the southern city of Khan Younis, where Sinwar was born in 1962.

He was first arrested by Israeli forces in 1982, at the age of 20, for engaging in destructive activities. Following this, he collaborated with Salah Shehade and formed a unit that specifically targeted Israel’s spies within the Palestinian movement. After the founding of Hamas in 1987, their unit became a part of the Hamas military as an integrated arm.

Watch: Hamas militants attack Israeli homes, satellite images reveal war’s devastating impact

Shehade later assumed leadership of Hamas’ military wing before being eliminated by Israeli forces in 2002.

Sinwar spent a total of 24 years in prison. In 1988, he was apprehended by the IDF for the murder of two IDF soldiers and four Palestinians, on suspicion of working against Hamas. Following his arrest, he was sentenced to four life terms.

So, how did he gain his freedom? The story bears similarities to the release of Masood Azhar, a Pakistani terrorist whom India had released in 1999 in exchange for a hijacked Indian plane carrying 155 passengers.

In 2006, Hamas’ military wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, constructed a tunnel to cross the border and attack the IDF. They killed two IDF soldiers, wounded as many, and took one soldier as a bargaining chip.

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This soldier, Gilad Shalit, remained in captivity for five years before being eventually released in a prisoner exchange. In return for Shalit, Israel released 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, including Yahya Sinwar.

Referred to as the ‘Butcher of Khan Younis’ by the IDF, due to allegations of killing Gazan civilians on suspicion of spying for Israel, Yahya Sinwar ascended through the ranks of the Hamas military wing.

In Ismail Haniyeh’s absence, who is the head of Hamas’ political bureau, and currently in exile, Yahya Sinwar effectively leads Hamas.

According to video clips released by the IDF, Sinwar has consistently advocated for armed struggle and the eventual destruction of the state of Israel.

Israel has directly accused Sinwar of masterminding recent terror attacks by Hamas, which have resulted in ongoing military action in the conflict zone.

IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht told the media on Saturday, “Yahya Sinwar is the face of evil. He is the mastermind behind this, much like Bin Laden was.”

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