Ismail Haniya elected new head of Hamas

Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip, said Saturday that it had chosen Ismail Haniyeh, a charismatic grassroots politician, as its new political chief, the latest move in an effort to refresh the militant Islamist group's leadership and manifesto.

The group maintains a sizeable armed wing in the Gaza Strip since seizing the coastal territory in 2007 from the rival Fatah party, which is based in the West Bank and has fought three wars with Israel.

"I would like to announce that this new council has elected Abu al-Abed, my brother Ismail Haniya, the president of the political bureau of the movement", Meshaal said in a statement.

The 54-year-old with a salt-and-pepper beard takes charge as it seeks to ease its worldwide isolation while not marginalising hardliners within the movement.

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Hamas dropped its longstanding call for Israel's destruction and severed ties with the Muslim Brotherhood in its policy shakeup announced at its main overseas office in the Qatari capital Doha last week.

It also says Hamas's struggle is not with Jews but with "occupying Zionist aggressors".

Haniyeh's selection marks the final phase of the secretive Hamas elections.

Haniyeh, 54, was Hamas' previous leader in Gaza.

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Juggling militancy with a desire for worldwide recognition, Hamas last week unveiled a new document of principles that is said would guide the group.

An influential military figure, he represents for some the hardest line within the Islamist movement. The ultimatum threatened that Hamas would expand by 30 the list of Palestinian prisoners for whom it demands release - one prisoner for every day Israel refuses to accept the demands of the hunger strikers.

"This election shifts the center of gravity in the movement to Gaza", said Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian Authority spokesman and a vice president of Bir Zeit University.

For the past four years, Haniyeh, born in the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza, has served as Masha'al's deputy and as private secretary to Hamas' founder and spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin, who was subsequently assassinated by Israel.

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"We are opposed to Hamas's acceptance of a state within the 1967 borders and we think this is a concession which damages our aims", he said on Islamic Jihad's website.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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