Khaled Meshal
Khaled Meshal Photo by AP
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Hamas confirmed yesterday that Khaled Meshal will not seek another term as the movement's political leader, paving the way for a possible leadership contest at a time when the anti-Israeli Islamic group faces decisions on whether to stay the course of militancy or moderate.

In interviews yesterday, Hamas officials confirmed previous reports that Meshal had made the announcement three weeks ago during a meeting in Khartoum, Sudan. They say he realized that the Gaza leadership would try to prevent him from seeking another term, and that he decided not to seek re-election rather than lose. Meshal has been asked to reconsider, they said.

Hamas is expected to hold elections by mid-2012. Arab media outlets have mentioned Meshal's deputy, Musa Abu-Marzuq, and the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, as possible successors.

Word of Meshal's decision comes at a time of change in Hamas' relationship with its parent movement, the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood, which has scored recent election victories in Egypt and Tunisia and has urged Hamas to moderate.

In discussions within Hamas, Meshal has praised the pragmatism of the Brotherhood and proposed that Hamas take steps toward becoming a strictly political movement, rather than also maintaining a military wing. This would eventually require a decision to halt attacks on Israel, something Hamas has so far avoided.

In recent months, Meshal has led attempts to reconcile with Fatah, although he has encountered some opposition from senior Hamas activists in the Gaza Strip. Meshal is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo early next month in an attempt to move rocky reconciliation efforts forward. The rivals had previously agreed to hold general elections in the Palestinian territories in late spring, but smaller gestures, such as mutual prisoner releases, have not yet been carried out, suggesting continued distrust.