Hamas's leader in exile, Khaled Mashaal, is tired of policy challenges
from the Islamist group's Gaza-based leadership and is not seeking
re-election in a vote now underway, political and diplomatic sources
said on Sunday.
Over the past five months, Hamas, which has ruled
the Gaza Strip since 2007, has been quietly holding a leadership ballot
among activists in the territory, the West Bank, Israeli prisons and in
Arab and other foreign countries.
Mashaal, who has led Hamas
since 1996 from various Arab capitals, told a meeting of its senior
officials in Cairo last week that he had no desire to remain its chief
and his decision not to run in the election was final, said a source
close to Hamas.
"He (Mashaal) told them to pick another leader," the source said.
Mashaal and other Hamas officials have made no public comment on his future leadership or on the Cairo meeting.
this year, Mashaal angered Hamas's Gaza-based leadership by agreeing
that its main rival, the Fatah movement of Western-backed Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, could lead any future unity
Egypt has brokered a reconciliation pact between
Hamas and Fatah, which fought a brief civil war in 2007 that left the
Islamist group in control of the Gaza Strip and Abbas in charge of the
But implementation of the pact, which envisages a
governing partnership and new Palestinian elections, has been held up by
the two sides' failure to carry out its clauses on the ground.
has also voiced what critics in Hamas saw as approval for Abbas's
now-stalled talks with Israel, saying in 2011 that 20 years after a 1991
international Middle East conference, Palestinians were willing to give
peace another chance.
"Mashaal has grown impatient with some of
his Gaza officials who recently tried to undermine decisions he took on
behalf of the group," said a diplomatic source in the region.
Hamas has repeatedly denied any internal rift.
'Mashaal savvy about world politics'
the source added, was more savvy about world politics and more
pragmatic than Hamas leaders who have lived only in the Gaza Strip.
has dismissed such distinctions, blaming Mashaal for planning attacks
that have killed hundreds of its soldiers and civilians. In 1997, Mossad
agents botched an attempt to kill him in Amman, an incident that
strained ties with Jordan.
The diplomatic source said Mashaal was
likely to come under pressure from within Hamas and from some Arab
countries to agree to stand as a candidate before a final vote, whose
date remains secret.
Another source, privy to the Hamas meeting
in Cairo, said Ismail Haniyeh, the group's leader in the Gaza Strip, and
Moussa Abu Marzouk, who headed Hamas in the early 1990s, were the top
candidates to replace Mashaal.
Both Haniyeh and Abu Marzouk
support closer relations with Arab countries and Europe, while adhering
to Hamas's policy of refusing Western demands to recognize Israel's
right to exist.
The location of a new Hamas chief could be key to
winning votes. Hamas activists have traditionally preferred leaders in
exile, in venues seen as offering better personal security than in the
Gaza Strip which Israeli drones overfly frequently.