After unveiling a new political roadmap, Hamas that controls the Gaza Strip announced Saturday it had chosen its former Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh as the group's new political chief.
Haniya is expected to remain in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian enclave run by Hamas since 2007, unlike Meshaal who lives in exile in Doha and has completed the maximum two terms in office.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qasim said Haniyeh will leave the strip "if the necessity dictates".
"Haniyeh's new position could require him to go on tours outside Gaza," he said.
"His departure from the Strip will be assessed by the Hamas leadership in accordance with future evaluations," the spokesman said.
Haniyeh, 54, was born in the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza. He was the private secretary of Hamas' founder and spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin.
In 2006, after Hamas won the legislative elections, Haniyeh was chosen by the movement to form its first government. He resigned as prime minister after Hamas and Fatah agreed to form a unity government in 2014 — a government has never taken hold. For the past four years he has served as Mashaal's deputy.
Haniyeh succeeds Hamas' longtime exiled leader Khaled Mashaal, and the move comes shortly after Gaza's rulers unveiled a new, seemingly more pragmatic political program aimed at ending the group's international isolation.
In its new program, Hamas redefines itself as a national liberation group, distancing it from its parent movement, the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood, which has been outlawed by neighboring Egypt. Ahmad Yusuf, a senior Hamas leader considered one the organization's pragmatists, said the new document signaled "an important shift in the way Hamas is thinking," that will give it more flexibility internationally. Hamas recently moved to secure its position in the region by making a significant change to its administrative cadre while accepting collaborative efforts with Egypt to fight the presence of Daesh in Sinai. After declaring itself an entirely independent organization with no affiliation with any parent organization such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas stated its intentions to mend ties with Cairo, as they both suffer from the presence of radical movements. Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007, after securing an overwhelming victory in legislative elections the previous year and ending 40 years of political domination by its rival Fatah party. Hamas captured the coastal strip by violently overthrowing forces loyal to the Fatah movement, led by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel, along with Egypt, has been enforcing a crippling border blockade against them since then. Though it has softened some of its rhetoric, Hamas' new platform clung to the hard-line positions that led to its isolation. The group reaffirmed it will not recognize Israel, renounce violence or recognize previous interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deals — the West's long-standing conditions for dealing with Hamas.
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