image Photo: Reuters, Flash90

Mashaal elected as int’l Hamas head

Former Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has been elected as the next head of the Palestinian Islamist group’s office abroad, announced a spokesman.

The 64-year-old Mashaal was chief of the Hamas political bureau until 2017 when he was replaced by Ismail Haniyeh.

Hamas’ power base is in Gaza, which it seized in a bloody 2007 internecine conflict from its bitter rival Fatah that controls the Palestinian Authority. It operates an international office for its many followers in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Hamas is an internationally-recognized terrorist organization due to its vow to annihilate Israel, and  frequent attacks on Israeli civilians which it considers as “legitimate armed resistance.” The group opposed the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords signed in the 1990s.

Mashaal led the Kuwait branch after helping establish Hamas in 1987. He served as founder chairman and founder of the group’s politburo from 1992

While visiting the Hamas headquarters in Jordan in 1997, Mashaal survived a dramatic Israeli assassination attempt that evolved into a major diplomatic spat between Jerusalem and Amman, in which he was ambushed and injected with poison by 2 Mossad agents. United States President Bill Clinton mediated agreement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to provide an antidote to counteract the drug upon the demand by Jordan’s King Hussein, who had threatened that refusal to do so would result in nullification of the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty. Even though a connection was denied, a short time later Israel released a number of Jordanian and Palestinian security prisoners, including Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin who had been serving a life sentence.

Mashaal was later arrested after returning from a trip to Iran and expelled from the Hashemite Kingdom in 1999 along with all ‘external Hamas leaders’ by then-King Abdullah II on charges of illegal activity. He remained in Qatar until moving to Syria in 2001, becoming the faction’s de facto leader 3 years later when Sheikh Yassin and his successor Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi were killed in targeted assassinations by the IDF.

He was heavily involved in the October 2011 prisoner exchange for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been held captive in Gaza for 5 years, for the release of 1,027 Palestinians from Israeli prisons.

In 2012 Mashaal left Syria over Iranian-backed President Bashar al-Assad’s war against rebels who were Sunni Muslims, like Hamas. He later declared support for the Syrian opposition forces.

During a Gaza City address to tens of thousands of Palestinians in December 2012 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Hamas’ founding, Mashaal vowed to liberate “Palestine from the river to the sea, from the north to the south, is our land and we will never give up one inch.”

At the end of his term as Hamas political chief in 2017, Mashaal was succeeded by Ismail Haniyeh.

Palestinian analyst Akram Atallah told Reuters that his appointment as leader of international activities is not likely to cause a significant shift in Hamas, due to his broadly alignment with the 59-year-old Haniyeh in terms of a pragmatic approach to Arab and Western countries, as well as the Mideast conflict.