Haniyeh, who also served as Mashaal's deputy for four years, is seen as a pragmatist within Hamas who will likely seek to improve the group's worldwide standing.
Ismail Haniya has been elected as the new leader of Hamas's political bureau, according to the Palestinian movement's news agency.
Last week, Hamas unveiled what had been billed as a new, seemingly more pragmatic political programme aimed at ending the group's global isolation.
"Haniyeh is a charismatic figure and is popular at home and overseas", Mukhemar Abu Saada, a professor of political sciences at Gaza-based Al-Azhar University, told Anadolu Agency. "From "67 until '87 you were running in chains after the students", continued Rajoub, criticizing Hamas" leadership for refusing to support and even working to thwart a strike at schools and universities announced by Fatah in the 1980s, before the first Intifada of 1987.
It also aims to appease Egypt, which holds the key to the door to Gaza and could ease the blockade on the strip.
"Ismail Haniya is the most appropriate person to promote this document to Arab and worldwide leaders", said Gaza political scientist Mukhaimer Abu Saada.
"I would like to announce that this new council has elected Abu al-Abed, my brother Ismail Haniya, the president of the political bureau of the movement", Meshaa told Al Jazeera news outlet. He added, "The elections enhance the democracy and vitality of the movement and give a greater role to institutions, not to people".
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This shift comes at a time of growing financial pressure on Gaza by Hamas' main rival, Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is trying to force the group to cede ground.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed two USA media outlets - CNN and The New York Times - for disseminating false reports about a document from Hamas, the largest of several Palestinian militant Islamist groups. "Yet, if circumstances can't help, he will not be able to make miracles".
"It's bad enough Hamas lies to the world, we don't also have to lie to ourselves".
"Therefore, it's not just a question of who leads, it's a question of the context and the circumstances in which a new leader leads".
In the charter, Hamas fell short of recognising Israel. "If a person is from outside Gaza, he won't talk about Gaza's ordeals and worries properly".
However, the new policy document still calls for the destruction of Israel, which has led Israeli officials to question the sincerity of the changes.
The intimation is that Hamas now accepts the State of Israel.