Khaled Mashaal to step down as Hamas leader — report
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Khaled Mashaal to step down as Hamas leader — report

Political chief said to forgo reelection bid in upcoming leadership vote

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal at a rally in Hamas's honor in Cape Town, South Africa, October 21, 2015. (AFP/Rodger Bosch)
Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal at a rally in Hamas's honor in Cape Town, South Africa, October 21, 2015. (AFP/Rodger Bosch)

Hamas’s political chief, Khaled Mashaal, will not try to retain his office in the upcoming elections for the leadership of the terror group, which rules Gaza, Arab media reported on Tuesday.

The London-based Arabic newspaper Rai Alyoum reported Tuesday that Mashaal will not run in the next elections, scheduled to take place by the end of the year. Unlike the last elections in 2013, when the Hamas leader claimed he would retire but then ran in the elections, this time the decision is final, the report said.

He will publicly announce his decision before preparations for the elections begin, the report said.

Mashaal, 56, is a veteran politician with close ties to regional powers Qatar, Egypt and Turkey. He has been key to Hamas’s attempts to break out of political isolation following its violent takeover of Gaza in 2007. He has led the movement since 1996.

A handout made available by the Turkish Prime Minister's Press office on December 27, 2014, shows senior Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal (L) shaking hands with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / HO / PM OFFICE / HAKAN GOKTEPE)
A handout made available by the Turkish Prime Minister’s Press office on December 27, 2014, shows senior Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal (L) shaking hands with then-Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu. (AFP PHOTO / HO / PM OFFICE / HAKAN GOKTEPE)

In 2013, Mashaal ran unopposed and was reelected by a majority in the movement’s decision-making Shura Council, which is believed to have about 60 members.

Still, he has slowly been losing power within the terror group, as a rift between Hamas’s military wing and political leaders continues to deepen.

Mashaal, a supporter of violent campaigns against the Jewish state, has suggested he could accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but has not said if such a state would end the conflict or only be an interim step to an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine, including what is now Israel.

Possible successors to Mashaal include Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s former prime minister; Mahmoud al-Zahar, one of the co-founders of the movement; and Moussa Abu Marzouk, who is Mashaal’s deputy and held the post before 1996.

(From L to R) Palestinian Fatah delegation chief Azzam al-Ahmad, Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk pose for a photo as they celebrate in Gaza City on April 23, 2014, after West Bank and Gaza Strip leaders agreed to form a unity government within five weeks. (photo credit: AFP/Said Khatib)
(From L to R) Palestinian Fatah delegation chief Azzam al-Ahmad, Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk pose for a photo as they celebrate in Gaza City on April 23, 2014, after West Bank and Gaza Strip leaders agreed to form a unity government within five weeks. (photo credit: AFP/Said Khatib)

The head of Hamas’s political bureau has traditionally been someone of high political standing living outside of Gaza, especially as traveling in and out of the Strip is difficult.

The Rai Alyoum report speculated that if that tradition were to continue, Marzouk, who currently lives in Cairo, has the best chance of taking over. Additionally, the paper wrote, Marzouk’s deep connections with Cairo are very important to Hamas, which has been working tirelessly to repair its relations with the powerful Arab country following the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood from power in 2013. The Muslim Brotherhood is the movement’s spiritual and formal political benefactor.

Yahya Sinwar (screenshot)
Yahya Sinwar (screenshot)

The Gaza-based Yahya Sinwar, a high-ranking Hamas operative with deep ties to the group’s military wing, is another possible contender to take the reigns of leadership.

Hamas has four components — activists in Gaza, the West Bank and in exile, and members imprisoned by Israel. Each of the four groups chooses local leaders as well as delegates to the Shura Council.

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