The possibility of an Israeli strike is delaying the replacement of Hamas’s political chief Khaled Mashaal, his deputy admitted on Monday.

Moussa Abu Marzouq — who arrived in Gaza together with Mashaal last week to participate in the movement’s 25th anniversary celebrations — told a gathering in the Rafah refugee camp that Hamas’s leadership was finding it difficult to convene, due to Israel’s offensive capabilities.

“Following the bombing [of an arms factory] in Sudan” allegedly carried out by Israel, Abu Marzouq told the Hamas-affiliated Alresalah, “the movement is finding it difficult to convene the Shura [consultative] Council that holds the authority to choose the head of the movement’s political office.”

Israel never claimed responsibility for the October 24 airstrike on the Khartoum arms factory, which reportedly supplied Hamas with weapons, but the Sudanese government and Hamas both blamed Israel. But Abu Marzouq’s statement was the first official Hamas acknowledgment of a link to the factory.

Members of Hamas’s consultative council are dispersed between Gaza, the West Bank, Israeli prisons and various Arab countries. Abu Marzouq, who is considered the front-runner to replace Mashaal, recently relocated to Cairo after leaving the movement’s Damascus headquarters in January.

In addition to fears of an Israeli attack, Abu Marzouq cited another reason for the delay: the inability of Hamas to hold internal elections in the West Bank. He did not elaborate, but Hamas habitually accuses the Palestinian Authority — which is led by Hamas’s rival Fatah party — of curbing its activities in the West Bank through the detention and questioning of activists in the movement.

There have been persistent rumors that Mashaal wishes to step down as head of Hamas’s political bureau after 16 years in office, but recent reports indicated that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has pressured him to stay on.