Hamas Officially Announces Khaled Meshal to Step Down

Political leader to leave post after 16 years; tensions have been rising between Hamas leaders in Gaza and those abroad.

In a statement released by the organization on Saturday said that Khaled Meshal announced his intention to leave the organization after sixteen years as the political leader. The statement was announced in a meeting of the heads of the organization in Sudan. Meshal's decision was reported on Friday in Haaretz.

Mashaal, 56, lives in exile in Damascus. He has been Hamas' leader since 2004, when Israel killed the group's founder Ahmed Yassin and leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshal

He led unity talks in 2011 between Hamas and the rival Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Egyptian-brokered talks ended with the two parties signing an agreement, which aims to heal a rift that started after Hamas won a parliamentary election in 2006.

The deal, which still needs to be implemented, calls for parliamentary and presidential elections in May. Ismail Haniyeh is Hamas' leader in the Gaza Strip, which is run by the Islamist group.

There has also been a widening rift between Hamas leaders in Gaza and those abroad. Palestinian analysts say Meshal recently realized that the Gaza leadership was determined to prevent his reappointment and decided instead to preempt them and quit.

Haniyeh and his men decided to prove to the organization's leaders who recently fled Damascus they could no longer impose their decisions on Gaza.

The Gaza leadership's position was bolstered by the realization that Meshal was trying to change Hamas' struggle strategy and lead it to an historic reconciliation with Fatah, while concentrating its energies on an Arab Spring-type struggle. Haniyeh, meanwhile, is sticking to his former stance, demanding to close ranks with Islamic Jihad.