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Once treated as a pariah by many U.S.-allied Arab leaders, Hamas has seen its standing in the region rise on the back of Arab uprisings that have ushered in more sympathetic Islamist governments in Egypt and elsewhere.
Israel, the United States and most Western governments view Hamas as a terrorist group for its refusal to recognise the Jewish state or to renounce violence that included suicide bombings in a Palestinian uprising a decade ago.
“I do not say Europe is going to open up to Hamas tomorrow,” said the diplomat, but added that a “real engagement with the West” was possible if Meshaal persuaded Islamist colleagues to change their policies.
Palestinian political analyst Hani al-Masri said Meshaal’s re-election signalled that Hamas was showing a desire for more moderation in order to build bridges with the West, but “it did not mean that Meshaal was a man who raises a white flag”.
Meshaal burnished his credentials within Hamas after surviving an Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997 and succeeded the group’s founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, in 2004 after Israel assassinated the wheelchair-bound cleric.
Hamas, which has close links to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, was founded in 1988 soon after Palestinians launched an uprising against Israel. Yassin was killed during a second revolt.
Despite falling out with Syria, Meshaal has sought to maintain ties with Iran, an Assad ally which supplies weapons to Hamas, including rockets the group has fired at Israeli cities.
Israel has struck repeatedly at militants in Gaza, attacks that have sometimes caused heavy casualties among civilians in the impoverished, densely-populated coastal territory.
Meshaal, who now divides his time between Cairo and Qatar, has tried to overcome his differences with Abbas, who supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
His re-election, said senior Fatah official Mahmoud al-Aloul, “may boost chances of reconciliation (with Abbas), but that does not mean it would be done, given remaining disputes within Hamas”.