Palestinian terror group Hamas is set to select on Saturday a new political bureau chief to replace Khaled Mashaal, according to reports in the Hebrew-language media citing Palestinian sources on Friday.
The top contenders include former Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh, senior member Moussa Abu Marzouk and Muhammad Nazzal, who previously served in the politcal bureau with Mashaal in Damascus.
Mashaal announced last year that he will not seek re-election and is expected to take up the role of head of Hamas’s Shura Council, an advisory committee. He served as global political chief for 21 years.
Haniyeh is said to be the favorite to lead the group and has been hailed for having strong ties to international players, namely Qatar and Turkey and most importantly, Egypt.
Abu Marzouk, however is well-regarded internally, with well-established connections to the group’s armed wing which does not always see eye to eye with the political leadership.
Hamas is currently led in the Gaza Strip by Yahya Sinwar.
Earlier this week, Hamas published its new political program, which softened the terror group’s language on Israel and Jews while still calling for the destruction of the Jewish state.
In an interview on the document, Mashaal said Hamas’s new policy document would not change the terror group’s commitment to using violence against Israeli civilians.
When asked if Hamas would cease its violence, stop firing rockets at Israeli cities or tunneling into Gaza border towns, Mashaal responded, “We do not practice violence. We practice legitimate resistance. If the occupation and the resistance are gone, then there is no need to use force or resistance.”
Mashaal also issued a call, in light of the new charter, to US President Donald Trump to break with past approaches to Middle East peace and use pressure to find an “equitable solution” for Palestinians.
“This is a historic opportunity to pressure Israel, to find an equitable solution for the Palestinian people,” Mashaal said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday.
When asked if Trump was up to the task, Mashaal said he believed the current administration has a “greater threshold for boldness” than its predecessors.
Since 1997, the US has designated Hamas as a terrorist group.
“This is a plea from me to the Trump administration…break out from the wrong approaches of the past, which did not arrive at a result … grab the opportunity presented by Hamas’s document,” he said.
Hamas’s main rival, Fatah head and president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas too has said the election of Trump is a “historic” opportunity to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The US president said he is seeking to strike “the ultimate deal” between the two sides, and expressed willingness to accept either a one-state or two-state solution.
According to Mashaal, Hamas’s new political document, which the group said does not negate its 1987 charter that has been widely condemned for its anti-Semitism, is an opportunity for world capitals “to engage seriously with Hamas, Palestinians and Arabs and pressure the intransigent side, which is Israel.”
In a separate interview with Al Jazeera on Tuesday, Mashaal said he believed the “Trump administration has not made clear its ideas regarding the Palestinian issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
He added the he thinks the Palestinian issue is not “considered a priority” for Washington, which is busy with issues like Russia, Syria and Iraq.
Hamas has also publicly warned Trump not to fulfill his campaign promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, saying the step would lead to violence.
Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday said Trump is still “giving serious consideration” to moving the embassy.
Israel dismissed the changes in Hamas’s charter.
“Hamas is attempting to fool the world, but it will not succeed,” David Keyes, a spokesperson for Netanyahu, told The Times of Israel.
Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since it took over the Gaza Strip in 2007 in a violent conflict with Abbas’s ruling Fatah party.
In an interview with The New York Times on Tuesday, Mashaal said one of his greatest achievements as Hamas’s leader was the group’s survival.
“It gives me pride that the people of Gaza have remained steadfast under Hamas despite three devastating wars,” he said.
When asked whether he would drop out of political life after stepping down as head of Hamas, Mashaal responded, “A resistance fighter never retires.”
AFP contributed to this report.