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Hamas picks former Gaza chief Haniyeh as its leader

Said Khatib, AFP | This file photo taken on February 24, 2017 shows Hamas leader Ismail Haniya speaking during the opening of a new mosque in Rafah town in the southern Gaza Strip.

Palestinian Islamist group Hamas has chosen its former chief in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniya, as its top leader, days after it released a policy document easing its stance on Israel.

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"The Hamas Shura Council on Saturday elected Ismail Haniya as head of the movement's political bureau," the group's official website said Saturday.

Unlike his predecessor Khaled Meshaal, who lives in exile in Doha, Haniya is expected to remain in Gaza, the Palestinian enclave run by Hamas since 2007.

Seen as a pragmatist within the movement, the 54-year-old takes charge of Hamas as it seeks to ease its international isolation without marginalising hardliners within the movement.

The militant group is trying to rebrand itself as an Islamic national liberation movement, rather than a branch of the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood, which has been outlawed by Egypt.

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 idea of a Palestinian state in 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.

However, Hamas officials said the document in no way amounts to recognition of Israel as demanded by the international community.

The change of leadership comes just days after US President Donald Trump held a first meeting with Hamas's political rival Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas, which ousted Abbas's Fatah party from Gaza in 2007, has dismissed the latter's attempts to resume peace talks with Israel as a waste of time.

Abbas has warned he will cut salaries, aid and subsidies to Gaza to pressure Hamas.

Earlier this week, his West Bank-based government announced it would stop paying for electricity Israel sends to power-starved Gaza.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

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