|Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah agreed to reconcile last year, but little has come of the deal [Reuters]
Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas' political bureau, has confirmed that he intends to step down after eight years in the post, the Islamist movement has said.
"Political bureau chief Khaled Meshaal has notified Hamas' consultative council that he does not wish to be a candidate for the movement's future leadership," a statement released on Saturday said.
Senior Hamas figures have asked Meshaal, 55, to reconsider, the statement said, adding that he has been urged to allow the consultative council to make a decision on the issue, as it was "not a purely personal matter".
Meshaal, who is normally based out of the Syrian capital Damascus, will remain active in Hamas "in the service of the people, the movement and the Palestinian cause," the statement said.
The political bureau is Hamas' principal decision-making body, and its members are elected through a secret ballot by the consultative council.
The next elections are expected later this year.
Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, confirmed that the consultative council would make "the final call" on Meshaal's decision to step down.
Meshaal has been based in Damascus since 2001, fearing for his safety and hoping to avoid the restrictions on his movement in Gaza. He has been the chief leader of Hamas' political wing since 2004.
Israel blames Meshaal for planning many attacks that have killed hundreds of its soldiers and civilians. In 1997 he was the subject of a failed assassination attempt by Mossad agents, an incident that caused a rift in Israel-Jordan relations.
Late Jordanian King Hussein forced Israel to supply the antidote for a lethal injection Meshaal was given, and to release the group's founder, Ahmed Yassin, from prison in 1997.
Hamas has been in control of the Gaza strip since 2007, after a brief conflict with fighters loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.
Hamas and Abbas' Fatah agreed to a reconciliation plan last year, but it is an agreement that is yet to be implemented.