The leader of the Hamas terrorist organization, Ismail Haniyeh, will remain outside the Gaza Strip for up to a year, a senior official said Tuesday, according to AFP.
Haniyeh left Gaza in December on his first major foreign tour since taking over as the group's leader in 2017.
He has since visited Turkey, Egypt, and Malaysia as well Iran, where he participated in the funeral of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by a US air strike in Iraq.
"Haniyeh will remain abroad and continue to run Hamas until he has completed all the tasks and all the goals of his foreign tour," Hamas deputy chief Khalil al-Hayya told journalists on Tuesday.
The trip could last up to a year, he added.
Haniyeh is currently in the Gulf state of Qatar, a longtime Hamas ally which is also connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, in which Hamas has its ideological roots.
Qatar’s support for Hamas has been criticized by Arab states, which in 2017 severed relations with Qatar over allegations that it supports terrorism.
Qatar has rejected the criticism and made clear it is committed to funding projects in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, despite pressure from Saudi Arabia and others to stop.
Haniyeh left Gaza for his trip via Egypt, the only state apart from Israel to border Gaza.
Hayya admitted that Haniyeh’s visit to Iran had caused tensions with Egypt, which is allied with Iran's regional rival Saudi Arabia.
"Our brothers in Egypt rebuked us for visiting Iran, but (Hamas) has its own independent stance," Hayya said, saying the visit strengthened "the relationship between Hamas and Iran."
Relations between Hamas and Iran suffered a setback when Hamas refused to support Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, a close ally of Iran, in the uprising against him. An angry Iran then reportedly stopped supplying the terror group with weapons.
The tide seemed to turn in the summer of 2017, when Haniyeh thanked Iran for its "unlimited" support for the Al-Qassam Brigades and its contribution to the development of Hamas's military capabilities.
Since then, Hamas has sent several delegations to Tehran.