x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Hamas set to re-elect Meshaal as leader: party officials

There had been speculation that Mr Meshaal, who is in exile, would be forced aside by the movement's powerful leaders in the Gaza Strip, which they have controlled since 2007.

GAZA CITY // Khaled Meshaal is set to be re-elected to a new term as head of the Palestinian Islamist movement, party officials said yesterday.

There had been speculation that Mr Meshaal, who is in exile, would be forced aside by the movement's powerful leaders in the Gaza Strip, which they have controlled since 2007.

Mr Meshaal himself had said last year that he would not seek a new term.

But Hamas officials said that the party's governing shura council was poised to re-elect him at a meeting in Cairo.

"The movement's leaders have decided to renew Meshaal's term for four years," said a Hamas official.

"The leadership of the shura council are meeting today (Monday) to decide on the selection of the movement's chief," he said, adding their decision would be officially announced yesterday evening or today at the latest.

Another Hamas official said: "The elections take place in total secrecy, but it's widely known that Meshaal's term will be renewed."

Hamas officials were in Cairo on Sunday and yesterday for the vote, and to discuss with Egyptian leaders reconciliation with the rival Fatah faction of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

A brilliant orator, Mr Meshaal has used the freedom of movement that is denied to Hamas leaders in Gaza to criss-cross the Arab and Muslim world.

It was only last December that he made his first ever visit to Gaza.

Mr Meshaal was propelled to the movement's leadership in 2004 after Israel assassinated the movement's founding leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and his successor Abdelaziz Al Rantissi in the Gaza Strip.

Mr Meshaal himself survived an Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997 when agents of the Mossad secret service disguised as Canadian tourists bungled an attempt to poison him on a street in Amman.

Three of the attackers took refuge at the Israeli Embassy, but two were captured by Jordanian authorities.

Mr Meshaal fell into a coma and a furious King Hussein demanded Israel hand over the antidote if it wanted the captured agents to be freed.

The episode compelled then Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu - re-elected in 2009 and again this year — to release Yassin and 19 others from prison.