GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal won't seek re-election, said the Palestinian Islamic militant group in a statement Saturday.
The move opens the group to a leadership struggle, as it is not immediately clear who could succeed the charismatic, widely respected Mashaal.
It contributes to political turbulence within Hamas, which has recently faced a slew of criticism for continuing to be based in Damascus as the Syrian government violently cracks down on demonstrators throughout the country.
In the statement from Hamas' official e-mail account, the Palestinian group urged him to reconsider his decision, saying the issue of who leads the decades-old militant movement should be left to Hamas. The group says the decision shouldn't be made by one person — even its leader.
"The movement urges (Mashaal) to reconsider, and to leave this issue to the Shura Council, with full respect to his wishes (not to run again), considering this is a public matter that the Hamas institutions should decide, and not an individual person," the statement said. The Shura Council is the top-level body in Hamas that elects its leadership.
It is not clear when new elections might be held.
Mashaal, who is based in Damascus, was not immediately available for comment.
Senior Hamas official Ezzat Risheq confirmed the statement from his Damascus office. He too, urged Mashaal to reconsider.
The militant group Hamas is committed to Israel's destruction and has killed hundreds of Israelis in militant attacks that have included shootings and suicide bombings.
Since 2006 the group has ruled the Gaza Strip, a sliver of territory wedged between Egypt's Sinai desert and Israel. It is also a rival of the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority which rules the West Bank, a territory that flanks the other side of Israel.
Hamas' leadership is based in Damascus for their security. Mashaal's two predecessors — Abdel-Aziz al-Rantisi and the elderly Sheik Ahmed Yassin — were both assassinated by Israel.
Associated Press writers Diaa Hadid in Jerusalem and Albert Aji in Damascus contributed to this report.