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JERUSALEM, May 31 (Reuters) - Israel's largest real estate investment group Gazit-Globe reported higher first-quarter profit on Sunday benefiting from the inclusion of Atrium European Real Estate for the first time, and said the group's veteran president is to step down.
Roni Soffer, who presided over Gazit-Globe's more than doubling in size during his six years as president, said he would resign at the end of the year. He will be replaced by Rachel Lavine, a board member and executive vice chairman of Atrium, now controlled by by Gazit-Globe.
First-quarter profit rose to 376 million shekels ($97 million) from 157 million shekels a year ago. Rental income increased by 24 percent to 1.5 billion shekels
Net operating income, which reflects the group's core business, rose 26 percent to 1.03 billions shekels, helped by a 218 million shekel increase from Atrium. Funds from operation gained 6 percent to 160 million.
Gazit-Globe is also the largest shareholder in Finland's Citycon. Soffer said Citycon's expansion into Norway would put it in a strong position to be the third largest traded shopping centre company in continental Europe.
Citycon last week said it will buy Norwegian shopping centre owner Sektor Gruppen for about 1.5 billion euros ($1.65 billion).
Gazit-Globe said it would pay a dividend of 0.46 shekel a share for the first quarter, the same as the fourth quarter, to represent an annual payout of 1.84 shekels. For 2015, it will pay a quarterly dividend of 0.46 shekel a share, a 2.2 percent increase over 2014.
The group operates in the United States through Equity One and in Canada through First Capital Reality Inc .
$1 = 3.8660 shekels Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch. Editing by Jane Merriman