Ismail Haniya elected new political chief of Hamas

Ismail Haniya, known as Abu el-Abed, the Islamic Hamas movement's newly elected chief, was a former soccer player and an Arabic language teacher at the Islamic University of Gaza.

In Gaza, where Haniyeh still resides in his home in a refugee camp, some residents saw his election as a sign that could draw attention to the territory's woes.

Hamas also recently appointed a new military leader in Gaza, the hardline Yihye Sanwar, who spent many years in an Israeli prison.

The move, dismissed by Israel, appeared aimed at improving ties with Gulf states and Egypt as Abbas visited new US President Donald Trump in Washington, who expressed interest in renewing Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

The Gaza-based Islamic Jihad group Saturday slammed the Hamas policy tweak.

Palestinian resistance group Hamas said new group leader Ismail Haniyeh would remain in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas is branded a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union, and the new document is aimed in part at easing its global isolation.

In January 2006, the Islamic list which Haniya chaired won the parliamentary elections, after which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas nominated him as the Palestinian unity government's first prime minister.

In February, Yehya Sinwar was elected to succeed Haniya in Gaza. In 1997, Haniyeh was appointed the head of the office of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

Osama Hamdan, a senior spokesman for Hamas, said that the timing of the change was in accordance with Hamas's internal rules that limits the terms of leaders of its political bureau. Haniyeh has survived several Israeli assassination attempts in the past, and before becoming Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to have Haniyeh killed "within 48 hours" unless he returned the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, and two civilians who may still be alive. Gaza's sole functioning power station stopped functioning last month after running out of fuel amid the Fatah-Hamas spat over paying the bill. The two groups had a violent falling out in 2007 as Hamas fighters ousted Fatah from the Gaza Strip.

Israel, along with Egypt, has been enforcing a crippling border blockade against them since then.

  • Rogelio Becker