GAZA CITY- Ismail Haniya has succeeded Khaled Meshaal as new overall leader of the Palestinian fighters group, Hamas.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum confirmed on Saturday that Haniya had been selected as the politburo chief.

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

Khaled Mashaal, left, and Ismail Haniya.–File photo

He was born in the Shati refugee camp to the west of Gaza City and although a close associate of Hamas’s spiritual leader, the late Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, he was relatively unknown until he headed the Hamas list that won the Palestinian legislative election of January 2006 and became prime minister.

He is seen as a pragmatist who will try to ease Hamas’s international isolation.

The group published a new policy document this week regarded as an attempt to soften its image.

It declared for the first time a willingness to accept an interim Palestinian state within pre-1967 boundaries, without recognising Israel.

It also says Hamas’s struggle is not with Jews but with “occupying Zionist aggressors”. The 1988 charter was condemned for its anti-Jewish language.

Hamas as a whole, or in some cases its military wing, is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the US, EU, UK and other powers.

Gaza has been under blockade by Israel and Egypt for the past decade, imposed to prevent attacks by militants inside the territory. Its economy has been crippled as a result, and many of its 1.9 million inhabitants suffer daily hardships.