Hamas says Ismail Haniyeh chosen as Islamic group's leader

The Palestinian movement Hamas on Saturday elected Ismail Haniyeh to head its political office, a leadership change that comes as the Islamist group looks to reconcile with Palestinian rivals.

Hamas's new policy document, unveiled by exiled leader Khaled Mashaal in Qatar, softened the terror group's language on Israel, but still calls for the Jewish state's destruction.

Hamas is also trying to reach out to Egypt and other Gulf Arab states who consider the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

Mr Haniya, 54, lives in Gaza, which Hamas has ruled since 2007, unlike Mr Meshaal, who lives in Qatar.

In 2013, Haniyeh was elected deputy head of the Hamas political bureau.

The new document stresses it does not mean that Hamas now recognises Israel's right to exist or that it no longer advocates violence against Israel.

His position got enhanced in Hamas during Al-Aqsa Intifada because of his relationship with Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and because of the Israeli assassinations of the movement's leaders.

"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.

Gaza has been under blockade by Israel and Egypt for the past decade, imposed to prevent attacks by militants inside the territory.

"The new charter and Haniya's election are two of the biggest events in recent years", a European official based in Jerusalem told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. Repeated reconciliation efforts between the Palestinian factions have failed.

In February, the group chose militant commander Yehiya Sinwar, one of its most hard-line figures, as its new Gaza chief in charge of the group's core power base.

In another related story, Egypt reopened the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip for three days starting on Saturday to allow hundreds of stranded Palestinians to return home, officials said. He resigned as prime minister after Hamas and Fatah agreed to form a unity government in 2014 - a government that has never taken hold.

The following year, he led Hamas to a shock legislative election victory over Abbas's Fatah and became prime minister.

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