GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Hamas Islamic militant movement that controls the Gaza Strip announced Saturday it had chosen its former Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh as the group’s new political chief.
Haniyeh succeeds Hamas’ longtime exiled leader Khaled Mashaal, and the move comes shortly after Gaza’s rulers unveiled a new, seemingly more pragmatic political program aimed at ending the group’s international isolation.
Hamas 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. It has also dropped explicit language calling for Israel’s destruction, though it retains the goal of eventually “liberating” all of historic Palestine, which includes what is now Israel.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the group hoped Haniyeh’s election “would see opening to the region.”
Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007, after securing an overwhelming victory in legislative elections the previous year and ending 40 years of political domination by its rival Fatah party. Hamas captured the coastal strip by violently overthrowing forces loyal to the Fatah movement, led by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel, along with Egypt, has been enforcing a crippling border blockade against them since then. Though it has softened some of its rhetoric, Hamas’ new platform clung to the hard-line positions that led to its isolation. The group reaffirmed it will not recognize Israel, renounce violence or recognize previous interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deals — the West’s long-standing conditions for dealing with Hamas.
In its founding charter, Hamas called for setting up an Islamic state in historic Palestine, or the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, which also includes Israel. It also included anti-Jewish references.
Over the years, Hamas has carried out shootings, suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israel. Since 2008, Israel and…