Ismail Haniya was named the new chief of the Islamic Hamas movement on Saturday after he won in the recent internal elections, a spokesman for the movement in Gaza announced.
In February, the movement elected a hardline member of its armed wing as its new Gaza head to replace Haniya in that post. "He was one of the leaders who believed that participating in the political system would make the worldwide community open their arms, strengthen the Palestinians, and force Israel to deal with Hamas".
The group first gained prominence for its terrorist acts, mostly deadly suicide bombings in buses and cafes in Israeli cities during the second Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s.
In a somewhat softer tone, Hamas dropped its wording of "destroying" Israel - for now - and said it would recognize a Palestinian state within the borders crated by the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Meshaal announced from Doha, Qatar that Haniya has been elected as the new chief of the movement.
In 2014 Haniya escaped an assassination attempt during the 50-day widescale Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip, but his deputy Emad Alami lost a leg. "Mr. Haniya is the balance here".
Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor of political science at Gaza's al-Azhar University, said Haniyeh was a natural successor to Mashaal and represented "a continuation for the moderate line in Hamas".
Haniyeh was elected Palestinian prime minister in March 2006 following general elections which saw major gains for Hamas. The document stressed that it would not recognize Israel but lacked the movement's longstanding call for violence against Israel.
Last year, Avigdor Lieberman, a hard-line Israeli politician, issued a blunt ultimatum to Haniya. The threat has so far remained unfulfilled.
The Rafah border crossing is Gaza's only access point to the outside world not controlled by Israel. The election ended 40 years of political domination by the Fatah party. He added that "this reflects how powerful Hamas movement is".
Gaza has been under blockade by Israel and Egypt for the past decade, imposed to prevent attacks by militants inside the territory.
When it comes to war with Israel, neither Hamas nor Israel wants a new conflict in Gaza, yet each side could get drawn in.