Khaled Meshal

Khaled Meshal is the Hamas political leader, and the militant group's highest-ranking official. He has been living in exile in Damascus since 2001.

Meshal was born in the West Bank in 1956, but has lived most of his life outside of the Palestinian territories. In 1967, Meshal's family moved to Kuwait, where his father served as an imam. At 15, Meshal joined the Muslim Brotherhood. A few years later, while studying physics at Kuwait University, he founded the student group List of the Islamic Right.

Meshal has also lived in Qatar and then Jordan, where he reportedly served as the Hamas branch chief. In 1997, two Mossad agents were arrested after a failed assassination attempt of Meshal outside of his office in Amman. Meshal was left in critical condition after the agents allegedly dosed him with a poisonous toxin.

Benjamin Netanyahu, who was prime minister at the time, was forced to provide Jordan's King Hussein with an antidote to save Meshal's life, as well as free Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin from Israeli prison, in return for the release of the two Mossad agents.

Meshal became head of Hamas following Yassin's assassination by Israel in 2004. After Hamas won a surprise electoral victory in the Palestinian territories in January 2006, Meshal spoke of the need to work “realistically” with Israel, expressing readiness to sign a long-term cease-fire agreement with the Jewish state. He has, however, has also been steadfast in his refusal to officially recognize Israel.

In May 2009, Meshal was reelected by Hamas members to lead the group's politburo for another more years. However, reports have emerged recently that there is a division within Hamas, triggered by Meshal's hardline approach to rival Palestinian faction Fatah and his rigid stance on a prisoner swap for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held in Hamas-ruled Gaza since 2006.