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Ismail Haniyeh elected head of Hamas' politburo

May 6, 2017 5:56 P.M. (Updated: May 9, 2017 5:49 P.M.)
Ismail Haniyeh (left) and Khalid Meshaal
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Head of the Hamas movement’s politburo Khalid Meshaal announced on Saturday that his deputy, Gaza-based Ismail Haniyeh, was elected to replace him as the new overall leader of the party, confirming widely held expectations that Haniyeh would be elected to the post.

Meshaal made the announcement from the Qatari capital of Doha, where he resides in exile. The election of Haniyeh breaks with Hamas tradition, in which the leader resides outside of Palestine.

The head of Hamas politburo must not necessarily be based in exile, but Hamas leaders prefer this because it is easier for an exiled leader to travel in the region.

Haniyeh is from al-Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza, where he still lives. He may relocate abroad for the new post, though according to Al Jazeera, he is expected to remain in the Gaza Strip.

Several Hamas leaders were supposed to travel to Qatar to take part in the elections there. However, they were not permitted to pass the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, officials told Ma'an.

“It is a honor for me to inform our people, our movement’s members, and our nation, the election of Abu al-Abed, my brother Ismail Haniyeh, as the president of the political bureau of the movement," Meshaal, who assumed office 1996, said in video shared on social media. “I put all of my trust in Abu al-Abed," he said, using Haniyeh's tekonym.

It is unclear when Haniyeh will officially assume responsibilities for his new role. Meshaal reportedly will remain in a leadership position in Hamas, serving as chairman of the Shura council, the equivalent of Hamas’s parliament.

Haniyeh served as Palestinian prime minister after Hamas' victory in 2006 elections, and continued to claim the title despite being dismissed by Palestinian Authority President and Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.

The announcement on Saturday marked the culmination of a months-long process of Hamas' internal elections, as all other leadership positions in the Gaza Strip, occupied West Bank, inside Israeli prisons, and abroad have also been determined.

Meshaal reportedly said that the names of the remaining new leadership would be announce "at the appropriate time."

Hamas typically carries out internal elections every four years, to determine leadership and administration committees on all levels, including electing the members of head of the movement's politburo. Yahya Sinwar was notably elected as the head of the party’s politburo in the Gaza Strip in February.

At the start of this month, Hamas announced its new charter, declaring acceptance of a Palestinian state along the 1967 "Green Line" border, while rejecting any legitimacy of “the Zionist entity,” in reference to the state of Israel.

The acknowledgement of the 1967 borders came as a vast departure from the group’s previous stance, which held that “all Palestinian land is sacred; there can be no end to the conflict with Israel.”

The charter also addressed Hamas’ positions regarding the Palestinian political process, and the Ramallah-based, Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA), which has seen a years long conflict with Hamas worsen in recent weeks, with Hamas leaders last month accusing the PA of putting into action a “big plan” aiming to “eliminate the Palestinian cause.”

“Hamas affirms that the role of the Palestinian Authority should be to serve the Palestinian people and safeguard their security, their rights and their national project,” the charter said, while simultaneously calling for free and fair national elections.

After the PA announced elections would be held in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Hamas -- the de facto ruling party of Gaza -- promptly rejected the plan, saying that elections should only take place after the more than decade-long rivalry between Hamas and Fatah came to an end and reconciliation was achieved.

The most recent attempt to hold local elections came after elections scheduled to be held in October were postponed, following backlash over a PA Supreme Court ruling to exclude the Gaza Strip from the elections altogether.

Prior to their cancellation, the municipal elections had been set to be the first in the Gaza Strip in a decade, after Hamas’ victory in the 2006 vote erupted into a violent conflict between Hamas and Fatah, as both groups attempted to take control of the besieged coastal enclave.
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