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Profile: Khaled Meshaal of Hamas

Khaled Meshaal
Khaled Meshaal has vowed Hamas will not renounce violence

The name of Khaled Meshaal, political chief of Palestinian militant group Hamas, was heard around the world when he survived an assassination attempt by Israeli agents in 1997.

The incident was Mr Meshaal's main claim to fame until he was named as a Hamas leader following Israeli's killing of the group's founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, in March 2004.

The organisation's covert structure means it is not known whether he has authority over the remaining Gaza hierarchy, but from his position in exile in the Syrian capital, Damascus, he has played an important role since the group won a majority in January's Palestinain parliamentary elections.

Unhindered by the travel restrictions imposed by Israel on Hamas leaders in Gaza and the West Bank, Mr Meshaal has represented the group at meetings with foreign governments and other parties throughout the world.

After talks with the Egyptian government and the Arab League in Cairo in February, Mr Meshaal told the BBC that Hamas would be willing to take a serious step towards peace if Israel did the same.

He said Hamas would not renounce violence, saying resisting an occupation was legal.

But he said a long-term truce would be possible if Israel accepted conditions, including a return to its 1967 borders.

Kuwait contingent

Mr Meshaal was born in 1956 in the village of Silwad, near the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Khaled Meshaal speaks in front of a poster of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin
Meshaal has been increasingly important since Sheikh Yassin died

His father, like many other Palestinians, travelled to the Gulf emirate of Kuwait in the 1960s for work. His family followed after the area fell under Israeli occupation in 1967.

At school, Mr Meshaal became involved in Palestinian and Islamic activism. He joined the Muslim Brotherhood in 1971.

Mr Meshaal continued to take interest political Islam while studying physics at Kuwait University and he founded a student organisation called the List of the Islamic Right.

After graduating in 1978, he spent a number of years teaching physics in Kuwait.

In 1987, Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Gaza founded the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, in response to a mass uprising against the Israeli occupation.

Mr Meshaal became increasingly involved with Hamas over the next few years, leading what was known as the Kuwait contingent of Palestinians who lived and worked there.

But he came to the fore after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Fund-raising

After Iraq's invasion he, like many Palestinians, moved to Jordan, where Palestinians make up some 60% of the population.

Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades
Hamas has been responsible for many suicide bombings in Israel

He took over the operation of a Hamas bureau in the capital Amman, where he was in charge of international fundraising for Hamas.

He was also particularly energetic in expanding the group's foreign relations with countries such as Iran and Syria.

Money was channelled from donors around the world to the West Bank and Gaza Strip for social welfare programmes run by Hamas.

The Israelis say some of it was used for suicide bombings and other attacks on Israelis.

A year later, Israeli agents tried to kill him.

Israeli assassination attempt

The operation was authorised by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which described Mr Meshaal was the "pre-eminent figure in Hamas and responsible for the murder of innocent Israeli civilians".

Khaled Meshaal and three other Hamas leaders are expelled from Jordan
Hamas leaders were deported from Jordan after a clampdown

Israeli Mossad agents disguised as Canadian tourists injected poison into his ear but he was rushed to hospital before it took hold.

His life was literally saved by Jordan's King Hussein, who was outraged by the attack and demanded the Israeli Government hand over the antidote.

The agents - who had been arrested - were exchanged for an Israeli apology and the release of Sheikh Yassin and 19 other prisoners.

In the late 1990s, King Hussein's son and successor King Abdullah closed down the Hamas office.

Mr Meshaal, who was briefly imprisoned, was expelled with three other Hamas representatives - Izzat al-Rushuq, Ibrahim Ghosheh and Musa Abu Marzuq - in August 1999.

He went to Qatar and then Syria in 2001, where Hamas' Political Bureau is now based.




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