The move to elect Haniya has raised a number of questions over the timing and reasons for the decision. It comes as the group is introducing changes to its organisational structure and policies towards Israel.
Haniya, who lives in Gaza, has a reputation for being pragmatic and flexible. His election is seen by some analysts as being in line with the movement’s decision to accept a Palestinian state on 1967 borders, a position he has long supported.
But who is Ismail Haniya? Here is a quick guide to the man running the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas’ political bureau:
Born in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza to parents who fled from the city of Asqalan after the state of Israel was created in 1948, Haniya studied at the al-Azhar Institute in Gaza and graduated with a degree in Arabic literature from the Islamic University in Gaza.
While at university in 1983, Haniya joined the Islamic Student Bloc, a precursor to Hamas.
The year he graduated, 1987, marked the start of the first Palestinian mass uprising against Israeli occupation, known as the First Intifada, and the subsequent founding of Hamas as an official group.
Israeli authorities imprisoned Haniya for 18 days when he took part in protests against the occupation. A year later, in 1988, he was jailed again for six months and spent another three years in prison in 1989 on charges that he belonged to Hamas, as the Intifada unfolded.
Following his release, Israel deported Haniya to southern Lebanon along with other senior Hamas leaders, where he spent a year. After the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, he returned to Gaza.
Haniya climbed the ranks within the movement as a close aide and assistant of Hamas’ cofounder, the late Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, in 1997.
In 2001, as the Second Intifada erupted, Haniya consolidated his position as one of Hamas’ political leaders, third in ranking after Yassin and Abdul Aziz al-Rantisi.
Haniya and Yassin escaped death in 2003, in a failed Israeli assassination attempt in the form of air raids on an apartment block in downtown Gaza where the two men were meeting. A few months later, Yassin, who was a quadriplegic, was targeted and killed by Israeli helicopters as he left a mosque after the early morning prayer.
Haniya rose to prominence in 2006 when he led Hamas to a legislative election victory over the Fatah movement, which had been in power for more than a decade.
Though he served as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA) for a short time, the refusal of the international community to work with Hamas, and the deadlock and violence between the two parties eventually led to the dismantling of the unity government in 2007, after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip.
Haniya was dismissed as prime minister by the president of the PA, Mahmoud Abbas, but he remained the de facto leader of the movement in the Gaza Strip.
On several occasions, Haniya has said that he would accept a Palestinian state on the borders of 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital. He has also said that the Hamas government would be willing to work with Western governments that vow to support the rights of Palestinians.
In a series of interviews conducted via email with the Beirut-based al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies in 2013, Haniya explained that Hamas makes a distinction between political efforts and compromise; "we are not opposed to any diplomatic or political efforts to restore our rights, but we are against bargaining or exchanging our rights".
He also described the Oslo Accords as "not only a fundamental compromise of Palestinian rights to the occupation, but were also a source of major division in the Palestinian arena over both means and objectives, transferring the conflict into the Palestinian domestic scene".
During the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza, two nephews of Haniya were killed and parts of his home destroyed as a result of Israeli shelling.
Source: Al Jazeera News