Hamas' politburo chief, Khaled Mashaal, is not seeking re-election, a Hamas official told the Bethlehem-based Ma’an news agency on Sunday.
Senior Hamas official Salah Bardawil told Ma'an that Mashaal will remain in Hamas but has decided not to run for re-election as party chief.
"When Mashaal said he was not seeking re-election, a message was sent to him from the movement’s leaders unanimously asking him to change his mind," Bardawil said.
Serious discussions are ongoing within Hamas about a successor to Mashaal, Ma'an learned from sources close to the movement.
The report noted that the only potential candidates would be current prime minister Ismail Haniyeh or deputy head of Hamas politburo Mousa Abu Marzouq, based in Cairo. The sources said that Abu Marzouq is likely to be the preferred choice.
Over the past five months, Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, has been quietly holding a leadership ballot among activists in the territory, in Judea and Samaria, in Israeli prisons and in Arab and other foreign countries, Ma’an reported.
The report said that Mashaal, who has led Hamas since 1996 from various Arab capitals, told a meeting of its senior officials in Cairo last week that he had no desire to remain its chief and his decision not to run in the election was final.
"Mashaal has grown impatient with some of his Gaza officials who recently tried to undermine decisions he took on behalf of the group," a diplomatic source in the region was quoted by Ma’an having said.
The politburo chief is more savvy about world politics and more pragmatic than Hamas leaders who have lived only in the Gaza Strip, the source said.
The diplomatic source said Mashaal was likely to come under pressure from within Hamas and from some Arab countries to agree to stand as a candidate before a final vote, whose date remains secret.
Hamas and its rival movement Fatah, led by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, have had a longtime row since Hamas violently overthrew the Fatah government in Gaza five years ago. Abbas and Mashaal signed a reconciliation deal, but the deal has repeatedly faltered as the parties spar over its implementation.