The Islamist Palestinian Hamas group re-elected the relatively pragmatic Khaled Meshaal as its leader on Tuesday, despite past criticism of him by hardliners in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
A diplomat in the region said Egypt and Qatar had lobbied strongly on behalf of a reluctant Meshaal before the vote in Cairo by about 60 Hamas leaders who had met through the night.
Born in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Meshaal, 56, has lived in exile for decades and, like his Hamas comrades, rejects Israel’s right to exist. But he played a vital role in indirect, Egyptian-mediated talks between Israel and Hamas to secure a truce that ended an eight-day Gaza war four months ago.
And Meshaal drew criticism last year from Hamas’s Gaza-based leadership over what some officials saw as a personal initiative to heal a rift with Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose rival Fatah party lost control of the Israeli-blockaded enclave in a brief civil war in 2007.
In a terse statement, a Hamas official said only that Meshaal had been re-elected in the Cairo meeting.
The diplomat in the region, who asked not to be identified, said Egypt’s Islamist leadership and the wealthy Gulf emirate of Qatar had backed Meshaal, who had earlier promised to step down.
“They saw Meshaal as a moderate and an example of a leader who saw the world more comprehensively than other (Gaza-based) hardliners in the group,” said the diplomat.
Meshaal left Damascus, where Hamas had a headquarters, about a year ago after the Sunni Islamist militant movement broke with President Bashar al-Assad over Syria’s civil war.
In December, Meshaal travelled from Egypt to make his first visit to Gaza, where he told a rally he would never recognise Israel and pledged to “free the land of Palestine inch by inch”.