Gaza chieftain Ismail Haniyeh
Gaza chieftain Ismail HaniyehIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Gaza's Hamas de facto Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is officially in the running to replace Khaled Mashaal as politburo chief of the terrorist organization, Arab media report.

The only problem is, it's not really clear as to whether Mashaal is leaving the post.

At least one report published Sunday by the London-based a-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper said Mashaal was essentially ordered by the terrorist group's Shura Council to remain in his post.

But other media are reporting the field is wide open.

The Palestinian Authority's Bethlehem-based Ma'an news agency reported Sunday that a source had revealed on condition of anonymity that deputy politburo chief Moussa Abu Marzouq appeared to be the most likely candidate to replace Mashaal.

But Ma'an added that regardless of who runs, the one thing that was clear was that Mashaal could not be one of the candidates, as “he has served the party's limit of two terms in office,” the unnamed official said.

The Italian news agency AKI also quoted Hamas sources claiming Haniyeh would run, in an article published Saturday. AKI added that Haniyeh's recent international tour was intended to “raise his profile among leaders in the region before elections.”

The trip, which included stops in Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia and Turkey, is expected to take the Gaza leader also to Qatar, Bahrain and Iran in February.

The trip to Tunisia managed to also complicated diplomatic relations between that nation and the Palestinian Authority, led by Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki invited Abbas to the celebration of the first anniversary of the Jasmine Revolution taking place just after the visit by Haniyeh -- his rival -- but Abbas turned him down, citing “prior commitments.”

Upon his arrival in Tunisia, a group of radical Salafi Muslims – Haniyeh's fans -- had greeted him at the airport in an ecstatic demonstration marked by anti-Semitic chants of “Kill the Jews!” and “Crush the Jews!”