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Hamas leader stepping down is 'pure speculation'

Hugh Naylor (Foreign Correspondent)

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GAZA CITY // Khaled Meshaal has no plans to step down as the head of Hamas, a spokesman for the Islamist group said yesterday, denying reports the Damascus-based leader would resign.

Fawzi Barhoum described as "pure speculation" a flurry of news articles in the Arabic media yesterday saying Mr Meshaal, 55, would relinquish his position soon.

"For anything like this to be true, there would have to be a formal announcement by either the movement or Mr Meshaal himself," said Mr Barhoum, a spokesman in the Gaza Strip, which Hamas controls.

Reports that Mr Meshaal's had planned to resign plans were fuelled by an essay posted Monday on Facebook by Mustafa Lidawi, a Palestinian analyst based in Lebanon who maintains close links with Hamas. He wrote that the Hamas leader would leave his position and run in the forthcoming Palestinian National Council (PNC) election.

The PNC is the legislative arm of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which officially represents all Palestinians living inside the Israeli-occupied territories and abroad.

Mr Lidawi, who served as a Hamas official in Damascus in the 1990s, said the decision was to give the next generation of Hamas members a chance to assume leadership positions.

He called Mr Meshaal a brave leader for agreeing to leave power while still alive, contrasting him with traditional Arab rulers who retained their positions until they are forced out or die.

Under the May reconciliation accord struck between Hamas and its West Bank rival, Fatah, the Islamist group is supposed to join the PLO and participate in the national elections expected planned for this May.

Officials involved in the reconciliation process hope these elections will cover the PNC, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), which is the legislature of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the PA presidency.

Mr Meshaal has led Hamas since 2004 and has been an instrumental force behind Hamas' reconciliation accord with Fatah.

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