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Hamas head says he won't seek another term

GAZA CITY -- Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal has decided not to seek another term, the movement said Saturday, paving the way for a possible leadership contest at a time when the anti-Israeli Islamic group faces far-reaching decisions on whether to stay the course of militancy or moderate.

However, Hamas suggested Mashaal could be asked to stay on, in what would be a boost for his more pragmatic line.

Mashaal could not be reached for comment Saturday, but his decision not to seek another term as head of Hamas' political bureau was confirmed in a Hamas statement. Mashaal, who like other top Hamas leaders is based in Syria, has led the 15-member bureau since 1996, which is nearly twice as long as permitted under Hamas rules.

Hamas said Saturday the final decision on Mashaal's future would be left to the 55-member Shura Council, which oversees the political bureau and authorizes key decisions. Mashaal was last reaffirmed in his post in April 2009, and it is not clear if and when the Shura Council would appoint a successor.

Word of Mashaal's decision comes at a time of change in Hamas' relationship with its parent movement, the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has scored election victories in Egypt and Tunisia following the pro-democracy protests of the Arab Spring over the past year, and has urged Hamas to moderate.

Brotherhood leaders have encouraged Mashaal to pursue reconciliation with Palestinian rival Fatah, led by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and to abandon violence, according to several Hamas figures.

In discussions within Hamas, Mashaal has praised the pragmatism of the Brotherhood.

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