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Ismail Haniyeh ( Ismaʻīl Haniyya; sometimes transliterated as Ismail Haniya or Ismail Haniyah) ( ) ; (born January 1963) is a senior political leader of Hamas and one of two disputed Prime Ministers of the Palestinian National Authority, the matter being under political and legal dispute. He became Prime Minister after the legislative elections of 2006 which Hamas won. President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed Haniyeh from office on 14 June 2007 at the height of the Fatah-Hamas conflict, but Haniyeh did not acknowledge the decree and continues to exercise prime ministerial authority in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Legislative Council also continues to recognise his authority.

Early life

Haniyeh was born in the Al-Shatimarker refugee camp in the Gaza Stripmarker. His parents became refugees after they fled their homes in Majdal (currently Ashkelonmarker, Israelmarker) during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. In 1987, he graduated from the Islamic University of Gazamarker with a degree in Arabic literature. In 1989, he was imprisoned for three years by Israeli authorities for participation in the First Intifada and membership with Hamas. Following his release in 1992, he was deported to Lebanonmarker with Ahmed Yassin, Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi and other senior Hamas politicians. A year later, he returned to Gazamarker and was appointed as Dean of the Islamic University.

Positions in Hamas

After Ahmed Yassin, Hamas' spiritual leader, was released from prison in 1997, Haniyeh was appointed to head his office. He was targeted by the Israel Defense Forces for his alleged involvement in attacks against Israeli citizens. Following a suicide bombing in Jerusalemmarker in 2003, he was slightly injured on his hand by an Israeli Air Force bomb attack attempting to eliminate the Hamas leadership. His position within Hamas continued to strengthen during the Second Intifada due to his relationship with Yassin, and because of the assassinations of much of the Hamas leadership by the Israeli security forces. In December 2005, Haniyeh was elected to head the Hamas list, which won the Legislative Council elections the following month.

Prime Minister

Haniyeh was nominated as prime minister on 16 February 2006 following the Hamas "List of Change and Reform" victory 25 January 2006. He was formally presented to Mahmoud Abbas on 20 February and was sworn in 29 March 2006.

Western reaction

Israel implemented a series of punitive measures, including economic sanctions, against the Palestinian Authority following the election. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, announced that Israel would not transfer to the Palestinian Authority an estimated $50 million per month in tax receipts that were collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Haniyeh dismissed the sanctions, stating that Hamas would neither disarm nor would it recognise Israel.

Haniyeh expressed regret that Hamas was subjected to punitive measures, adding that "it [Israel] should have responded differently to the democracy expressed by the Palestinian people".

The Bush administration of the United Statesmarker, whose nation considers Hamas to be a terrorist organisation, demanded that $50 million in unexpended foreign aid funds for the Palestinian Authority be returned to the United States, which Palestinian Economic Minister Mazen Sonokrot agreed to do. On the loss of foreign aid from the United States and the European Union, Haniyeh commented that: "The West is always using its donations to apply pressure on the Palestinian people."

Pope Benedict XVI Islam controversy

During the Pope Benedict XVI Islam controversy, he condemned the Pope's remarks: "In the name of the Palestinian people, we condemn the pope’s remarks on Islam. These remarks go against the truth and touch the heart of our faith." He also denounced the Palestinian attacks on churches in the West Bank and Gaza.

Dispute with Abbas

An agreement with Abbas was to have been reached to stop Abbas's call for new elections. On 20 October 2006, on the eve of this deal to end factional fighting between Fatah and Hamas, Haniyeh's convoy came under gunfire in Gaza and one of the cars was set on fire. Haniyeh was not hurt in the attack. Hamas sources said that this was not an assassination attempt. Palestinian Authority security sources reported that the attackers were the relatives of a Fatah man killed by clashes with Hamas.

Denied reentry to Gaza

On 14 December 2006, Haniyeh was denied entry to Gaza from Egyptmarker at the Rafahmarker border crossing. The border crossing was closed by European Union monitors by order of Israeli Minister of Defence, Amir Peretz. Haniyeh was returning to Gaza from his first official trip abroad as prime minister. He was reported to have an estimated 30 million USD in cash in international donations on hand, meant for the Palestinian Authority. Israeli authorities later stated that they would allow Haniyeh to cross the border provided he leave the money in Egypt, which would reportedly be transferred to an Arab League bank account. A gun battle between Hamas militants and the Palestinian Presidential Guard was reported at the Rafah border crossing in response to the incident. The EU monitors who operated the crossing were reportedly evacuated safely. When Haniyeh later attempted to cross the border, an exchange of gunfire left one bodyguard dead and Haniyeh's eldest son wounded. Hamas denounced the incident as an attempt by rival Fatah on Haniyeh's life, prompting firefights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip between Hamas and Fatah forces. Haniyeh was quoted as saying that he knew who the alleged perpetrators were, but declined to identify them and appealed for Palestinian unity. Egypt has since offered to mediate the situation.

Attempt to form unity government

He resigned on 15 February 2007 as part of the process to allow a unity government between Hamas and Fatah. He was again sworn in on 18 March 2007 as head of the new cabinet.

Disputed dismissal

On 14 June 2007, Abbas dismissed Haniyeh and appointed Salam Fayyad in his place. This followed action by Hamas armed forces to take control of Palestinian Authority positions that were in control of US and Israeli-armed and supported Fatah militias. The appointment of Fayyad to replace Haniyeh has been challenged as illegal, because under the Palestinian Basic Law, the President of the Palestinian Authority may dismiss a sitting prime minister, but may not appoint a replacement without the approval of the Palestinian Legislative Council. According to the law, until a new prime minister is thus appointed, the outgoing prime minister heads a caretaker government. Fayyad's appointment was never placed before, or approved by the Legislative Council. For this reason, Haniyeh has continued to operate in Gaza, and be recognised by a large number of Palestinians as the legitimate acting prime minister. Anis al-Qasem, the Palestinian constitutional lawyer who drafted the Basic Law, is among those who publicly declared the appointment of Fayyad to be illegal.


  1. "PNA agrees to return 50-million-dollar fund to US", Xinhua, 19 February 2006
  2. "Hamas dismisses Israeli sanctions", BBC, 20 February 2006
  3. "Abbas Threatens Hamas With New Elections ", Arutz Sheva, 18 October 2006
  4. "Haniya unhurt in convoy shooting", BBC, 20 October 2006
  5. "Haniyeh unhurt by attack on convoy in Gaza", Haaretz, 20 October 2006
  6. "Palestinian PM denied Gaza entry", BBC, 14 December 2006
  7. "Egypt seeks to ease Gaza tensions", BBC, 15 December 2006
  8. "Palestinian unity deal under way" BBC, 15 February 2007
  9. David Rose, The Gaza Bombshell, Vanity Fair, April 2008
  10. Whose Coup Exactly?, The Electronic Intifada, 18 June 2007
  11. Opinion of lawyer who drafted Palestinian law, Reuters, 8 July 2007. Accessed 7 August 2007

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