Khaled Mashaal
Khaled Mashaal Israel news photo: Flash 90

Hamas’ politburo chief Khaled Mashaal has decided not to return to Syria, a senior Syrian intelligence official said on Saturday. He added that despite Mashaal’s decision, there continues to be Hamas presence in Syria.

Diplomatic sources confirmed the report and added that Mashaal has abandoned the terror group’s headquarters in Damascus. The sources said that Mashaal has not been in Syria recently as much as he had been in the past and has spent most of his time abroad. They said that last month, Mashaal was only in Syria for five days and spent the rest of the time in Qatar, Turkey and Egypt.

The sources said Mashaal is currently in Cairo, but added that there is no consensus regarding the opening of a Hamas office in Cairo. Mashaal is expected to open an office in Qatar, where he now spends most of his time.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum played down the reports and said there was no change in the status of Hamas’ headquarters in Syria. He added that Mashaal's visits to many Arab countries are meant to strengthen the support for reconciliation between Hamas and its rival faction Fatah. Barhoum said Hamas has not made any decision to leave Syria and its people are still there.

Reports surfaced last May that Hamas is moving its headquarters from Damascus to Egypt and the terror group is strengthening itself in the Sinai.

Some reports claimed that the Damascus-based Hamas leadership left Syria after the Syrian government asked the Hamas leaders to leave.

In September, Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar announced that the terror movement may relocate its headquarters from Damascus to Cairo.

In December, it was reported that dozens of Hamas members have quietly returned to Gaza from Damascus. A few weeks ago reports surfaced that Hamas leaders attached to the organization's long-standing Damascus bureau are fleeing Syria with their families, as President Bashar al-Assad's regime grows increasingly unstable.