Who are Hamas’s political leaders, and how is Israel targeting them?

Yehiya Sinwar, a founder of Hamas's military wing, talks during a rally in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, in 2011. (Hatem Moussa/AP)

An Israeli airstrike early Sunday destroyed a nondescript building in Khan Younis, a city in the southern Gaza Strip. According to Israeli officials, the target of the strike was the home and office of Hamas’s political leader in Gaza, Yehiya Sinwar.

Whether Israel intended to kill Sinwar, or simply send a message, was not clear. Top Hamas leaders typically go into hiding during conflicts.

On Monday, a top Israeli commander told reporters that Sinwar had not died in the attack but that he and other Hamas leaders “were, and remain, in Israel’s sights.”

As the highest political authority in Gaza, selected in a secretive internal Hamas election in 2017 and reelected this year, Sinwar may be the closest thing the Palestinian territory has to a top leader — arguably the equivalent of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But while Netanyahu gives statements on television and shares updates on social media, Sinwar has gone underground, maintaining near-total silence during the worst fighting in Gaza since 2014.

Instead, Ismail Haniyeh, the former Gaza political leader who serves as Hamas’s top political figure in Qatar, and Muhammed Deif, the head of military wing, have taken control the public messaging during the conflict.

Sinwar, despite a hard line reputation forged during his time as Hamas’s military leader and as an Israeli prisoner for 22 years, has surprised analysts with pragmatic political approaches since 2017. He may be key for a cease-fire.

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