Former Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh is likely to replace Khaled Mashaal as head of the Hamas terror group’s politburo in upcoming elections, according to Arab media reports Monday
All other contenders for the position are said to have withdrawn, leaving Haniyeh as the sole candidate.
“There is almost an agreement inside the leadership of the political bureau that the two (other) expected candidates running for the presidency of Hamas would withdraw and therefore, allow Haniyeh to chair the movement,” an informed source told the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
Haniyeh, 53, left the coastal enclave via the Rafah crossing Monday en route to Saudi Arabia to attend the hajj, according to Hamas radio. He is also expected to visit Turkey before taking up residence in Qatari capital of Doha.
The head of Hamas’s political bureau is expected to live outside of Gaza, as traveling in and out of the Strip is difficult.
Mashaal has lived for the last several years in Qatar.
Haniyeh was the prime minister of the Gaza Strip from the 2006 elections until he was dismissed on June 14, 2007 by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He has continued to act as Gaza’s de facto political leader.
He was elected vice-president of the Hamas political bureau in 2012.
Mashaal, 60, has led the Hamas political bureau since 1996. He 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.
His second eight-year term as president ended in 2013. At that time, Mashaal claimed he would retire, but was allegedly persuaded to remain in position by the movement’s decision-making Shura council, which is believed to have about 60 members. According to Hamas legislature, he may not run for another term.
Mashaal has slowly been losing power within the terror group, amid a deepening rift between Hamas’s military wing and political leaders.
The London-based Arabic newspaper Rai Alyoum reported in June that Mashaal will step down and, unlike in 2013, this time the decision is final.
New elections for leadership of the Hamas political bureau are to be held over the coming year.