Hamas says Meshaal wants to step down as leader

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Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who survived a 1997 Israeli assassination bid, has confirmed he wants to step down after eight years in the post, the Islamist movement said Saturday. “Political bureau chief Khaled Meshaal has notified Hamas’s consultative council that he does not wish to be a candidate for the movement’s future leadership,” a statement said. Senior Hamas figures have asked the Damascus-based Meshaal to reconsider, the statement said.
They urged him to leave it to the consultative council to decide “on the basis of the higher interests of the movement,” stressing that it was “not a purely personal matter.” Meshaal, 55, will remain active in Hamas “in the service of the people, the movement and the Palestinian cause,” the statement stressed. The political bureau is Hamas’s principal decision-making body and its members are elected by secret ballot by the much larger consultative council. The next elections are expected to be held in July or August, Hamas sources said.
Among the leading candidates to replace Meshaal, are his number two, Mussa Abu Marzuq, who also lives in exile; the leader of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, and another prominent Gaza Hamas figure, Mahmud Zahar. The Hamas confirmation that Meshaal wants to step down comes amid press reports of growing friction between the Damascus-based leadership-in-exile and the movement’s Gaza wing, which has ruled the territory since ousting forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in 2007.
A series of meetings which Meshaal has held with Abbas in recent months in a bid to reconcile the two factions and unify their rival administrations have reportedly drawn criticism from some Gaza leaders.