Hamas said its former chief in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, was elected overall head of the Palestinian Islamist group on Saturday, succeeding Khaled Meshaal.
Haniya, seen as a pragmatist within the movement, 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.
“The Hamas Shura Council on Saturday elected Ismail Haniya as head of the movement’s political bureau,” the group’s official website announced.
He beat contenders Mussa Abu Marzuk and Mohamed Nazzal in a videoconference vote of the ruling council’s members in Gaza, the West Bank and outside the Palestinian territories.
The 54-year-old with a salt-and-pepper beard takes charge of Hamas as it seeks to ease its international isolation while not marginalising hardliners within the movement.
On Monday, it unveiled a new policy document easing its stance on Israel after having long called for its destruction.
The document notably accepts the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza, the territories occupied by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967.
It also says its struggle is not against Jews because of their religion but against Israel as an occupier.
The original 1988 charter will not be dropped, just supplemented, in a move some analysts see as a way of maintaining the backing of hardliners.
Hamas is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union, and the new document is aimed in part at easing its international isolation.
Hamas officials said the revised document in no way amounts to recognition of Israel as demanded by the international community.
Nevertheless, the Gaza-based Islamic Jihad on Saturday slammed the Hamas policy tweak.
“As partners with our Hamas brothers in the struggle for liberation, we feel concern over the document,” said Islamic Jihad’s deputy leader, Ziad al-Nakhala.
“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.
Nakhala said the new Hamas policy formally accepting the idea of a state in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 would “lead to deadlock and can only produce half-solutions”.
Founded in the 1980s in the wake of the Islamic revolution in Iran, a close ally, Islamic Jihad is the second force in the Gaza Strip and focused entirely on the armed struggle.