Hamas held secret leadership election, official says

GAZA (Reuters) – Thousands of Hamas members voted in a secret internal ballot in the Gaza Strip that re-elected the Islamist group’s most prominent leaders to its highest bodies and signaled no change in policy.

“The election showed the wonderful face of democracy within Hamas. It was carried out smoothly,” a Hamas official said about last month’s vote, citing security considerations for the decision to keep it secret.

“Our goals are clear and we have a policy that does not change, and that is there can be no recognition of Israel,” the official said.

Officials in the group said some veteran leaders had lost seats on the Shura Council to younger candidates but senior figures Ismail Haniyeh, Mahmoud al-Zahar and Saeed Seyam were re-elected to the policy-setting body and to the politburo.

The three are Hamas’s top leaders in the Gaza Strip, territory the movement seized in fighting against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah forces in June 2007.

Several members of Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, were elected to the politburo, which executes policy and strategy decided by the Shura Council.

“When you have a fair election, people do not expect to remain in their posts forever and Hamas remains a strongly integrated group,” one official said.

In Hamas, candidates do not actively seek nomination but their names are put forward by activists or mosques in their hometowns.

Hamas last held an internal ballot in 2006 before it won a Palestinian parliamentary election that year in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

The Hamas official said the group’s priorities remained an end to divisions with Fatah and a continuation of “resistance” against Israel, which tightened a blockade of the Gaza Strip after the 2007 takeover of the territory.

Despite its declared policy of continuing to fight Israel, Hamas agreed to a ceasefire along the Gaza border in June and has said it would accept a Palestinian state in lands captured by Israeli forces in a war in return for a long-term truce.

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