New Gaza Cease-Fire Proposal Puts Spotlight on Hamas Leader Yahya Sinwar

U.S. attempts to pressure Hamas to agree to a cease-fire proposal newly backed by the U.N. Security Council have put a spotlight on the armed group’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, who is believed to have remained in hiding in the enclave throughout the war and is a pivotal voice in the group’s decision-making.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Tuesday in Tel Aviv, during a visit to several countries in the Middle East, that the onus was now on Mr. Sinwar to accept the new cease-fire proposal, which the United States brought to a successful Security Council vote on Monday. Rejecting the deal, Mr. Blinken said, would put Mr. Sinwar’s political interests ahead of those of civilians.

Hamas could be “looking after one guy,” Mr. Blinken said, referring to Mr. Sinwar.

Mr. Sinwar was an architect of the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, in which around 1,200 people were killed and around 240 taken hostage. American and Israeli officials who spent months assessing his motivations say that Mr. Sinwar knew the incursion would provoke an Israeli military response that would kill many civilians, but he reasoned that was a price worth paying to upend the status quo with Israel.

After Hamas agreed to a brief cease-fire late last year, during which more than 100 hostages in Gaza and many more Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons were exchanged, Mr. Sinwar has held out against any further cease-fire deals. More than 36,000 people have been killed in Gaza during the eight months of war, and around 80,000 people have been injured, according to Gaza’s health ministry, which says that the majority of the dead are women, children and older people.

Mr. Sinwar’s position is not the only question mark in the negotiations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel also has not said in public that he accepted the proposal the Security Council has endorsed and is under pressure from his far-right coalition partners not to end the war until Hamas is destroyed. Mr. Blinken said on Tuesday that Mr. Netanyahu had “reaffirmed” his commitment to the plan in private talks in Jerusalem.

U.S. officials said last month that Mr. Sinwar was most likely living in tunnels beneath Khan Younis, a city in southern Gaza that has been devastated by Israeli airstrikes and fighting. Hamas has constructed a network of tunnels beneath Gaza to shield the group from Israeli surveillance and attack.

Israeli officials have said that killing Mr. Sinwar is a top priority, no matter how long it takes; he has not been seen in public since Oct. 7. He has also not released audio and video messages.

That public silence has made it difficult to determine his thinking and the extent to which he retains control of Hamas, some of whose political leaders are based in Qatar. But Israeli and American officials say Mr. Sinwar remains central to the group’s decision making.

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