GAZA CITY: Khaled Meshaal, the head of the Hamas movement, has reaffirmed his decision to relinquish leadership of the group, Hamas officials said on Tuesday.
The movement in January announced its longtime leader-in-exile was ready to step down from his post, but said members were hoping he would reconsider his decision.
But Hamas officials in Gaza and outside the Palestinian territories said Tuesday that Meshaal was determined to give up the leadership.
"It seems that Abu al-Walid (Meshaal) has taken the decision not to stand again as a candidate for the head of the political bureau of the movement," a Hamas member in Gaza told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"That's what he told members of the political bureau and the leadership during a meeting in Cairo this month."
The comments confirmed a posting on the official Facebook page of Izzat al-Rishq, another senior Hamas leader in exile.
"During the last meeting of the political bureau of the movement, which included leaders inside and in exile, and as leadership elections approach, brother Khaled Meshaal reiterated his wish not to accept candidacy for the head of the political bureau," he wrote.
"Although leaders and key figures from the movement inside (the Palestinian territories) and outside called on brother Abu al-Walid to continue to lead the movement, he stuck to his position and offered his thanks to the movement's leaders and members."
Meshaal's departure comes after growing friction between the leadership-in-exile, formally based in Damascus but dispersed since the Syrian uprising began, and the leadership on the ground in the Gaza Strip.
Since taking control of the coastal strip, the Hamas movement in Gaza has boosted its profile, growing increasingly financially independent but also openly disagreeing with decisions taken by the leadership-in-exile.
Meshaal was publicly criticised by Hamas members inside Gaza during his bid to cement a now-stalled reconciliation process between the Islamist movement and the rival Fatah movement headed by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
And the Gaza Hamas official told AFP that it was "time that the head of the movement be inside, and on Palestinian soil."
"The balance of forces on the ground has been affected by political developments in the region and the world," he added.
A Hamas official in exile acknowledged that Meshaal has faced "difficulties with certain leaders in Gaza," particularly over the reconciliation process, though he added that "these obstacles will be overcome."
Hamas said in January that Meshaal would remain active "in the service of the people, the movement and the Palestinian cause."
The political bureau is Hamas's principal decision-making body and its members are elected by secret ballot by the much larger consultative council.
Among the leading candidates to replace Meshaal are his number two, Mussa Abu Marzuq, who also lives in exile; the leader of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, and another prominent Gaza Hamas figure, Mahmud Zahar.