Ismail Haniyeh
Ismail Haniyeh Flash 90

The Hamas terror group elected ex-Gaza chief Ismail Haniyeh as its new leader on Saturday, days after revising its founding charter to ease its stance on Israel.

Haniyeh, seen as a pragmatist within the terror organization, is expected to remain in Gaza, the Palestinian enclave run by Hamas since 2007.

His predecessor Khaled Mashaal lives in exile in Doha and had completed the maximum two terms in office.

"The Hamas Shura Council on Saturday elected Ismail Haniyeh as head of the organization's political bureau," the group's official website announced.

He beat Mussa Abu Marzuk and Mohamed Nazzal in a video conference vote of the ruling council's members in Gaza and Israel.

The 54-year-old takes charge of Hamas as it seeks to ease its international isolation while not marginalizing hardliners within the terror group.

On Monday, Hamas unveiled a new policy document calling for the the creation of a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 borders. The document also claims the conflict is not anti-Semitic but because Israel is an "occupier."

However, Hamas leaders emphasized that the new document in no way amounts to recognition of Israel as demanded by the international community.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's spokesman has dismissed the revision, accusing Hamas of "attempting to fool the world."

"The new charter and Haniyeh's election are two of the biggest events in recent years," a European official based in Jerusalem told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The question is how is Hamas going to build on this momentum."

Hamas's Gaza spokesman Fawzi Barhum said the leadership transition would be smooth.

"Mashaal had already set in motion a new phase," he told AFP. "Haniyeh will continue on this path."

Leila Seurat, a researcher at the Paris-based Centre for International Studies and Research, said the election of a Gaza-based leader signaled a shift.

Hamas has been directed from Doha and from Damascus since the assassination of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in Gaza in 2004.

"His election is a sign that the Gaza leadership has regained the upper hand from those outside," she said.

The United States, European Union, and Israel all consider Hamas to be a terrorist group.

Did you find a mistake in the article or inappropriate advertisement? Report to us