Mahmoud al-Zahar

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Mahmoud al-Zahar
محمود الزهار
Foreign Minister of the Palestinian National Authority
In office
20 March 2006 – 18 March 2007
Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh
Preceded by Nasser al-Kidwa
Succeeded by Ziad Abu Amr
Personal details
Born 1945 (age 69–70)
Jerusalem, British Mandate for Palestine
Political party Hamas
Alma mater Cairo University
Ain Shams University
Profession Physician
Religion Sunni Islam

Mahmoud al-Zahar (Arabic: محمود الزهارMaḥmūd az-Zahhār) (born 1945) is a Palestinian politician. He is a co-founder of Hamas and a member of the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip. Since the formation of the Hamas/"Change and Reform" government in the Palestinian National Authority in March 2006, al-Zahar has served as foreign minister in the government of prime minister Ismail Haniyeh. Prior to that he was seen as a major candidate among the Hamas members elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council for prime minister, as he was at that time the most senior official within the organization. His son, a member of the Hamas military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was killed by Israeli fire in Gaza on 5 January 2008.[1]

Early life[edit]

Little is known about al-Zahar's early life beyond the report that he was born to a Palestinian father and an Egyptian mother.

At the age of 26, he graduated from the Cairo University Faculty of Medicine and five years later he got his Masters Degree in General Surgery from Ain Shams University, Cairo. He then became the adviser to the Palestinian Health Minister, and helped create the Palestinian Medical Society and was one of the primary founders of the Islamic University in Gaza in 1978.


Instrumental to the creation of Hamas in 1987, al-Zahar has remained a senior official and spokesperson for the group and is rumoured to have succeeded to leadership of the group following Israel's assassination of Ahmed Yassin in 2004. Hamas routinely denied this rumour, but refused to name who their new leader was, for fear of Israeli action.

According to the BBC, al-Zahar's "Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades killed a large number of Israeli civilians in a new campaign of suicide bombings."[2] In response, "on September 10, 2003, an Israeli F-16 dropped a large bomb over his house in the Rimal neighborhood of Gaza, which only managed to slightly wound him, while his son Khaled, and a personal bodyguard were killed, and twenty others wounded including his daughter Rima. His house was destroyed, and ten other houses nearby were damaged, as well as the nearby Al-Rahman mosque. The resulting funeral was attended by over two thousand mourners, who called on Hamas to avenge the deaths.

On 15 January 2008, al-Zahar's son Hussam was reportedly killed in an IDF air strike on a car full of Hamas fighters in northern Gaza.

In 2010, al-Zahar revealed to the press that Yasser Arafat had instructed Hamas to launch militant attacks—including suicide bombings—against Israel in 2000, due to peace talks not going anywhere.[3]

Foreign Minister[edit]

On 20 March 2006, Hamas named al-Zahar foreign minister. Al-Zahar's main challenge has been to break the US-led diplomatic boycott of the Haniyeh government. Al-Zahar was a strange choice for the position; he is a wanted man according to Israeli security forces, and it has been confirmed that he actively encouraged and planned attacks against Israeli civilian and military targets during and before the Al-Aqsa Intifada (BBC News, 27 January 2006). Added to that was the fact despite the great variety of Palestinian diplomats available to serve as foreign minister, in the end Hamas chose al-Zahar, who is a novice in the field, and whose belligerent character in the past could damage Hamas in its venture to acquire a new image as a responsible political movement. Unlike Haniyeh, who never was involved in Hamas's armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, al-Zahar had long ties to the group, and helped form it, though he never became a commander in it.

Hardline position[edit]

In internal Hamas politics, al-Zahar is today considered one of its more stubborn hard-liners. While Hamas as a whole rejects the legitimacy of the existence of Israel, demands the Right of Return and Jerusalem as the capital of the new Palestinian state, and calls for the release of all Palestinians detained in Israeli jails, it is divided as to the means of attaining these goals. The political wing has in the past expressed willingness to negotiate with Israel for a long-term ceasefire and territorial concessions, and then to consider recognition of Israel. The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades and their leader Muhammad Deif maintain that only continuous attrition will force Israel to release detainees and give in. Al-Zahar tends to agree with the latter, and he represented within the Haniyeh government the most prominent hawk.

Al-Zahar can also be considered the top Gaza-based ally of Khaled Meshal and Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, the heads of the Hamas "State Bureau" who most contend today are the true leadership of the movement since the assassination of Ahmad Yassin and his spokesman Abdelaziz Rantisi. If Meshal is indeed the true head of the movement, then the true power of Prime Minister Haniyeh is actually negligible and the legitimacy of the Palestinian government is questionable. The possibility that any decisions made by Haniyeh carry no weight within Hamas would undermine any policies he enacts, and would cast serious doubt as to whether he really governed the PNA, or if true control rested in Meshal or PNA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. After the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the Haniyeh-led Hamas government and appointed a new cabinet run by Fatah and Independents to govern.[4]

On 14 June 2006, Palestinian officials reported that Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar brought twelve suitcases stuffed with US$26.7 million in cash into Gaza through its border with Egypt, which is controlled by Palestinian guards loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah. Al-Zahar was at least the third known Hamas official to be caught with large sums of cash: Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri had been stopped the previous month.[5]

In a public address broadcast on Hamas's Al-Aqsa TV channel on 5 November 2010 (as translated by MEMRI) al-Zahar appeared to justify the persecution of Jews down the ages and to promise that the Jews were destined to be annihilated. Al-Zahar stated that "We are no weaker or less honorable than the peoples that expelled and annihilated the Jews. The day we expel them is drawing near... We extended our hands to feed these hungry dogs and wild beasts, and they devoured our fingers. We have learned the lesson – there is no place for you among us, and you have no future among the nations of the world. You are headed to annihilation." [6]

Incitement controversy[edit]

During the 2008-2009 Gaza War which was conducted by Israel "in response to markedly increased Palestinian rocket fire following the expiration of a six-month cease-fire"[7] in which it is estimated that 1,200 or more Palestinians (of whom 412 were children and a hundred were women) and 13 Israelis died[8] and 183 Israelis were "injured by rocket and mortar fire by Palestinian militants in Gaza" and 340 Israelis were wounded "during the military operation" [7] al-Zahar, during a television broadcast, was reported to have said that the Israelis "have legitimised the murder of their own children by killing the children of Palestine... They have legitimised the killing of their people all over the world by killing our people."[9] This remark was widely reported as advocating the "murder" of Jewish children worldwide.[10][11][12] Maajid Nawaz condemned the remarks as "depraved" and "perverse Al Qaida logic," writing that, as opposed to Hamas, "Israel does not have an active policy of deliberately capturing children to murder them, or even deliberately murdering civilians for that matter." [13] Basim Naim, the minister of health in the Hamas government in Gaza, said Zahar's statements had been misquoted and mistranslated, and that what he did was to "warn that by carrying out these barbaric massacres of children and women, and by destroying our mosques, the Zionists are creating the conditions for people to believe it is justified or legitimate to take revenge....Dr Zahar did not even mention 'Jews' in his comments".[14]

Park51 endorsement[edit]

In an interview on New York’s WABC radio, al-Zahar was asked by Aaron Klein to comment on the construction of the mosque Park51 near the World Trade Center site. Zahar, endorsed the building, by saying, "We have to build the mosque as you are allowed to build the church and the Israeli are building their holy places. We have to build everywhere — in every area we have muslims, we have to pray, and this mosque is the only site of prayer especially for the people when they are looking to be in the group — not individual".[15][16][17][18]

Personal life[edit]

Al-Zahar has had four children with his wife Summaya, including their first son, Khaled, born in 1974, a daughter Rima born in 1983.[19]


  1. ^ Kershner, Isabel (16 January 2008). "18 Palestinians Killed in Gaza Clashes". Gaza Strip;Israel: Retrieved 27 September 2011. 
  2. ^ "Middle East | Profile: Hamas' Mahmoud Zahhar". BBC News. 2006-01-27. Retrieved 2014-08-14. 
  3. ^ "Arafat ordered Hamas attacks against Israel in 2000", Jerusalem Post, reported 29 June 2010[[{{{2}}}]] ([[:{{{1}}}:{{{2}}}|{{{1}}}]])
  4. ^ CBN News and another report
  5. ^ "Hamas minister carries millions of dollars into Gaza", ABC News, reported 14 June 2006[dead link]
  6. ^ Hamas Leader Mahmoud Al-Zahhar Justifies Persecution of Jews in History and Promises and Declares That Jews "Are Headed to Annihilation.", MEMRI, Clip No. 2676, 5 November 2010.
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^ "United Nations Radio: Palestinian casualties in Gaza exceed 1,300: Holmes". Archived from the original on 2009-05-02. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  9. ^ "''Al Jazeera''". 5 January 2009. Retrieved 27 September 2011. 
  10. ^ UK TimesOnline at the Wayback Machine (archived May 13, 2011)
  11. ^ "Hamas terror: every Jewish child now a target". 27 January 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-06-04. 
  12. ^ "Hamas leader: Revenge for Israels". The Telegraph. 6 January 2009. 
  13. ^ Nawaz, Maajid (7 January 2009). "Mahmoud Zahar has betrayed his people". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 27 September 2011. 
  14. ^ Naim, Basim (13 January 2009). "We believe in resistance, not revenge". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 27 September 2011. 
  15. ^ S.A. Miller in Washington and TOM TOPOUSIS in New York (16 August 2010). "Hamas nod for Ground Zero mosque". Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  16. ^ "Ground Zero mosque row to become muddier as Hamas pitches in with support - International Business Times". 16 August 2010. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  17. ^ [1][dead link]
  18. ^ Paul Woodward. "Hamas supports the right of Muslims to pray in mosques — even in New York". War in Context. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  19. ^ "Israel to Make Gestures to Palestinians - New York Times". The New York Times. 

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