GAZA CITY, Palestine
Ismail Haniyeh, a leading figure in Palestinian resistance movement Hamas, left the Gaza Strip on Monday in a sign that he plans to vie for the presidency of the movement's political bureau in upcoming internal polls, according to Palestinian political analysts.
Since 2004, leadership of the political bureau has represented the highest position in the Gaza-based resistance group.
Analysts told Anadolu Agency that Haniyeh stands a good chance of winning the vote, which is expected to be held in April of next year.
Haniyeh set out from the Gaza Strip on Monday evening -- via Egypt’s Rafah border crossing -- en route to Saudi Arabia, where he will perform the Hajj pilgrimage, according to a Hamas source who spoke anonymously due to the issue’s sensitivity.
Other sources close to Hamas told Anadolu Agency that candidates seeking to vie for the post had to reside outside the Palestinian territories so as to move freely and avoid the threat of being targeted by Israel.
In light of the difficulties associated with entering and exiting the Gaza Strip -- due to Egyptian restrictions on cross-border traffic and strained relations between Cairo and Hamas -- Haniyeh will likely remain abroad until the elections are held, the same sources said.
If elected head of the political bureau, he may remain overseas -- most likely in Qatar -- on a semi-permanent basis, the sources added.
Since 2013, Haniyeh has served as deputy head of the political bureau.
Hamas’ internal elections, in which the president and members of the bureau are chosen, are held every four years behind closed doors.
Since 1996, the political bureau has been headed by Khaled Meshaal, who in 2004 was appointed overall head of the group after the assassination by Israel of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who helped establish Hamas in 1987.
Tayseer Muheisen, a political science professor at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University, said Haniyeh’s departure from the strip this week would likely pave the way for his selection as head of the group.
"Haniyeh enjoys considerable support inside Hamas for the position," he asserted.
According to the group’s internal bylaws, Meshaal cannot run for a third term as bureau chief.
"Haniyeh enjoys support both at home [i.e., in Gaza] and abroad," Muheisen said.
"He’s a charismatic leader who can serve Hamas in the realm of international relations," he added. "He has the ability to mobilize political and financial support for the group."
Talal Okal, a prominent Gaza-based Palestinian political analyst and columnist, believes Haniyeh will win the upcoming elections.
"Many indicators suggest that Haniyeh will assume the leadership of the group’s top body," he said.
"He has already served as vice-head of the movement, working under complex political circumstances, both internal and external," Okal said.
"He also enjoys wide acceptance among various Palestinian parties, even among his political opponents," he added.
In the event that Haniyeh remains abroad, the analyst said, "his absence will be felt in the Gaza Strip, as he has a unifying character that most other leaders lack".
Mukhaimar Abu Saada, another political science professor at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University, described Haniyeh as "the most suitable figure to lead Hamas in the current period".
"He was one of the founders of the group and is known for his pragmatic approach," Abu Saada said. "He also enjoys wide local and Arab acceptance."
"Haniyeh’s departure will certainly leave a vacuum [in Gaza], but Hamas’ institutional approach allows up-and-coming generations to take the lead in different areas of the group," he added.
Haniyeh was born in 1963 in the Al-Shati refugee camp west of Gaza City. In 1997, he began serving as office manager for Hamas co-founder Yassin.
In 2003, both Yassin and Haniyeh survived an Israeli assassination attempt inside Gaza City.
In 2006 Palestinian legislative polls, Haniyeh topped Hamas’ electoral list, which ended up winning a majority of seats in the Palestinian National Assembly.
Soon afterwards, he was assigned by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to draw up a government.
Abbas issued a decree dismissing Haniyeh as prime minister in June of 2007 after Hamas preemptively captured the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority, led by Abbas’ Fatah movement.
Since then, Haniyeh has led the group in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip as vice-head of the political bureau, while Meshaal has remained in Qatar since leaving Damascus in 2012.
*Reporting by Ola Atallah; Writing by Ali Abo Rezeg
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