Hamas’s Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh reportedly transferred his authorities to his deputy Ziad Zaza on Tuesday, in a move analysts consider the start of his campaign to replace Khaled Mashaal as head of Hamas’s political bureau.

Haniyeh told a group of former ministers in Gaza that his deputy will now enjoy all prime ministerial powers. Sources close to the government told AFP that Haniyeh intends to devote his time to leading his movement in the Gaza Strip.

Haniyeh is considered a front-runner in the race for head of the political bureau — which has been the terror group’s most prestigious position “in exile” — along with Mashaal’s deputy Moussa Abu Marzouk. Mashaal recently declared that he will not run for a second term in office.

Bethlehem-based Maan News Agency reported that Zaza chaired the weekly government meeting on Tuesday, for the third time in a row.

Ayman Shahin, a political scientist at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University, told The Times of Israel that Haniyeh is likely only taking a break from his role as prime minister in order to campaign, but will probably return following the elections for political-bureau head, the date of which has not yet been set.

Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the influential London-based daily Al-Quds al-Arabi, tweeted that Haniyeh “seems to believe that his role as head of the political bureau is guaranteed, and wants to move abroad.”

But Shahin said that Haniyeh does not necessarily have to leave the Gaza Strip and live in exile, as Mashaal, currently based in Qatar, has chosen to do. He said that the role of political bureau chief is not necessarily more prestigious than that of prime minister of the Gaza government.

“I believe he wants to remain prime minister, as well as head of the movement,” Shahin said.

No official confirmation of the move appeared on Hamas’s official website at the time of publication.