Ismail Haniya, Hamas new political leader

Posted May 09, 2017

For his first appearance as Hamas leader, the new leader publicly pledged his support for hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in his first comments while visiting a protest tent in support of the strikers.

Hamas's former chief in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, has been elected overall head of the Palestinian Islamist group, succeeding Khaled Meshaal, its official media announced on Saturday.

The shift comes at a time of growing financial pressure on Gaza by Hamas' main rival, Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is trying to force the group to cede ground. Some political analysts and United Nations officials believe a more regular engagement with Hamas's political wing could help moderate the group's overall position.

Israeli officials and policy experts have dismissed Hamas's document as an attempt by the terror group to gain greater appeal among the worldwide community and the Palestinian population.

Haniyeh's leadership could now be hampered by major restrictions enforced by Israel and Egypt. In February, he was elected Hamas leader for Gaza, a post that makes him Haniyeh's deputy. Sitting behind his desk with tense music playing in the background, he said that in its "hateful document", Hamas "lies to the world".

The announcement caps several months of voting among Hamas' far-flung members in Gaza, the West Bank, Israeli jails and overseas to select a replacement for Meshaal, who sought to step down.

Ismail Haniyeh was born in Shati refugee camp on May 23, 1963, where his parents fled from Ashkelon city after the Palestinian Nakba.

Hardliners yield influence in the strip, which has been under an Israeli blockade for 10 years.

For the time being, Hamas seeks to maintain the status quo in the conflict with Israel. In the past, the two helped pay for fuel for Gaza's power plant, but haven't taken action since fuel ran out last month.

"Egyptian authorities reopened the Rafah crossing for three days only, from Saturday until Monday, and only in one direction to allow those stranded on the Egyptian side to return home", a statement said.

The official told Al-Hayat that Israel did not respond this month to an official request by the Palestinian Authority to stop deducting the cost of electricity provided to Gaza-$11 million a month-from the monthly PA customs and taxes revenues.

Ahmad also said Hamas must give up its control of Gaza, something Haniyeh has refused to do.

Al-Hayat cited observers who believe Israel is reluctant to increase the humanitarian crisis in Gaza even more, but the PA is determined to press ahead with pressure on Hamas to weaken it.

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

With that deal later collapsing, the two political camps refuse to relinquish control in their respective territories.