Mashaal 248.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas announced on Sunday that its members have re-elected Khaled Mashaal as head of the movement's political bureau.
The movement also announced that three senior Hamas representatives from the Gaza Strip - Mahmoud Zahar, Khalil al-Hayeh and Nizar Awadallah - have been elected, for the first time, as members of the Syrian-based political bureau.
The election of the three Hamas officials means that the movement's leadership in the Gaza Strip would now have a bigger say in the decision-making process.
Hamas said that a number of its representatives in the West Bank were also chosen as members of its political bureau. However, it refrained from revealing their identities out of fear that they would be targeted by Israel or the Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank.
Mashaal was elected in a secret process that saw hundreds of Hamas members cast their ballots in different areas.
The newly-elected political bureau later chose an "executive bureau" for Hamas that consists of 25 senior representatives of the movement. This executive body will serve as an advisory committee [shura majlis] to the Hamas leadership.
Sources close to Hamas said that the new political bureau is not much different than the previous one. They pointed out that the most significant change that resulted from the secret vote was the removal of Mohammed Nazzal from the bureau.
Nazzal is seen by many Hamas leaders as an extremist who is totally opposed to any form of dialogue or compromise with the rival Fatah faction of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Nazzal has been replaced by Osama Hamdan, the Hamas representative in Lebanon, who supposedly belongs to the less radical wing of the movement.
This is the fourth time that Mashaal is elected as chairman of the Hamas political bureau. He was first chosen to the post in 1996.
The sources told The Jerusalem Post that the vote resulted in a major victory for representatives of the "young guard" in Hamas, most of whom are affiliated with the movement's armed wing, Izzadin Kassam.
Last year Hamas held similar elections for its shura majlis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
That vote, which was also secretive, was described as a "coup" because it saw the rise of "young guard" Hamas radicals to power.
Hamas sources pointed out that the members who were elected then were far more radical than those who were ousted from the council.
"The Shura Council of Hamas is now dominated by warlords, thugs and militiamen," one source said. "The new members are not as educated as their predecessors.
Another source described the vote as a "turning point" in the history of the organization. "From now on, the armed wing of Hamas is expected to play a bigger role in the decision-making process, he said "The political leadership of Hamas has definitely been weakened."
Two veteran Hamas politicians, Ghazi Hamad and Ahmed Youssef, did not even bother to run in the election because they knew they stood no chance against the young guard representatives.
Those elected to the council included Issa al-Nashar, Majdi al-Baba, Fuad al-Nahal, Atallah Abu al-Sabah, Yousef Farhat, Salem Salameh, Abu Ayman Taha and Osama Hammad. Almost all of them are described by sources in the Gaza Strip as warlords and militiamen belonging to Izzadin Kassam.