Meshal loses control of Hamas military wing as authority moves to Gaza leadership

Hamas denies Haaretz report on results of a secret election but senior officials confirm Ismail Haniyeh won by significant margin; Khaled Meshal expected to keep post but lose control of budget, military.

Hamas political bureau head Khaled Meshal, who now resides in Qatar, is expected to keep his post after an internal vote by the organization’s leadership later this month. But sources have told Haaretz that Hamas leaders have decided to transfer some of Meshal’s critical areas of authority to the leadership in the Gaza Strip, including control of the organization’s budget and of its military wing.

Hamas political bureau head Khaled Meshal

Hamas political bureau head Khaled Meshal - Photo by AP

Meshal’s sole control of Hamas’ purse strings has effectively given him control over Iz al-Din al-Qassam, the Gaza-based military wing of Hamas. The shift that now seems to be in the pipeline is part of the reorganization of Hamas, since the movement’s leadership left Damascus in the wake of the unrest in Syria. Meshal moved to Qatar, while Moussa Abu Marzouk, his deputy and one of his rivals, went to Cairo.

Other members of the movement’s leadership body are now scattered among Khartoum, Istanbul, Gaza, Cairo and Doha. The Gaza Strip remains home to many Hamas militants and to its main sources of revenue, including tax collection and the smuggling tunnels under the border with Egypt. Gaza has also become Hamas’ main decision-making center over the past several months.

Hamas denied a recent report in Haaretz on the results of a secret election to the politburo and the Shura Council, the organization’s political and decision-making council, held about three weeks ago. But senior officials in the movement have continued to confirm that Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh won by a significant margin, effectively becoming the head of the movement in the Gaza Strip. The top spot has been empty since the assassination in 2004 of Abdel Aziz Rantisi. Rounding out the top three positions are Imad al-Alami, who only recently arrived in Gaza after fleeing Syria, and Khalil al-Hayeh.

Meshal’s position in Hamas declined steeply after the movement’s leadership in Gaza rejected the “Doha agreement,” Meshal’s efforts to achieve a reconciliation between Hamas and the PLO’s Fatah.

These developments come as Hamas is increasingly losing the popularity contest in the West Bank to Fatah. Fatah swept the student council elections held in most of the West Bank’s leading Palestinian colleges and universities in the past few weeks. The organization’s candidates won in the elections to the territory’s professional associations for lawyers and for engineers, and Fatah also came out ahead in the election of the association representing employees of the UN Relief and Works Agency in the Gaza Strip.


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By Avi Issacharoff