updated 5/3/2009 5:41:59 PM ET 2009-05-03T21:41:59

Hamas has re-elected Khaled Mashaal as its top political leader for another four-year term, the Palestinian militant group announced Sunday, signaling strong support for the man who has adopted a hard-line policy toward Israel and Hamas' Palestinian rival, the moderate Fatah faction.

The win was the fourth time Mashaal has been elected to the post, which he has held since 1996, and comes as Hamas is locked in reconciliation talks with its rival, Fatah.

The Egypt-sponsored talks, which resumed in Cairo last week, touched on elections in Palestinian territories and the formation of a national unity government and its political program. The talks broke down last month mainly over how much Hamas would abide by past Palestinian peace accords with Israel.

Two factions at odds since 2007
The international community says it will only deal with a Palestinian government that recognizes Israel, a concession Mashaal has vowed Hamas will never make.

The two Palestinian factions have been at odds since the bloody power struggle in 2007 when Hamas seized the Gaza Strip, splitting Palestinian territories in two and leaving Fatah in control of the West Bank.

Egypt is also mediating separate talks between Israel and Hamas over a prisoner swap. Israel wants the return of Sgt. Gilad Schalit, captured by Hamas-allied militants in a cross-border raid in 2006. Hamas demands in return that 1,200 Palestinian prisoners be freed from Israeli jails.

Those negotiations also broke down in March. Israel's new government, led by hard-line Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is unlikely to make concessions to Hamas.

Lives in exile in Syria
The 53-year-old Mashaal, who lives in exile in Syria, is married and has seven children. Israeli Mossad agents tried to assassinate him in Jordan 1997, but the operation failed. After the assassination attempt, Mashaal moved to Qatar and later to Syria in 1999.

Hamas officials in Damascus contacted by The Associated Press refused to provide more details on Mashaal's re-election. The group's Shura Council, whose members are not publicly known, also elected a new politburo — Hamas highest political authority — during the vote held over the past several days, according to a statement faxed by the militant group to The AP in Damascus.

Three Gaza-based leaders — Mahmoud Zahar, Khalil el-Hayeh and Nizar Awadallah — were elected to the politburo, the statement said. They join current politburo members based in Syria and in the West Bank.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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