Hamas Official Uses Diplomatic Channels to Send Letter to Obama

Letter handed to Kerry said to be authored by Hamas adviser; Hamas denies that letter came from group.

A Hamas adviser reached out to United States President Barack Obama in a personal letter that was passed from a top United Nations official to a high-ranking U.S. senator during a rare visit to the Gaza Strip, officials said on Friday.

The coastal territory's Hamas rulers disavowed the letter, which the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem will send on to Washington for review.

It was the first known overture of its kind since Obama became president last month, but it is unclear whether it will reach him. A U.S. boycott of Hamas has not changed under the new administration.

Karen AbuZayd, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), gave the letter addressed to Obama, along with other materials, to Sen. John Kerry, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, during his brief visit to the Gaza Strip on Thursday.

Committee spokesman Frederick Jones said Kerry left Gaza and only learned later about the origin of the letter after media reports quoted AbuZayd and other UN officials as saying it had been written by Hamas.

UNRWA said the letter had been left by Hamas at the front of its compound in Gaza City. UNRWA officials had no immediate comment on why Kerry had not been told directly that the letter had been sent by Hamas.

A Palestinian official familiar with the matter said the letter was authored by Ahmed Youssef, a Hamas foreign ministry adviser, and that he acted on his own behalf, rather than as a representative of the Islamist group which rules the Gaza Strip.

Youssef has made appeals to Western leaders in the past to try to soften their opposition to Hamas, which the United States and the European Union consider a terrorist organization.

Hamas has long sought to distance itself from Youssef, describing him as a fringe player and academic whose positions are not necessarily in line with the group.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum denied that the letter that was given to Kerry had come from the organization or its government in the Gaza Strip.

"At the same time we stress that we are open to hold dialogue with any country and our only enemy is the Zionist occupation," he said.

Kerry handed the unopened letter over to Jacob Walles, the U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem, on Friday, consulate spokeswoman, Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm, said.

"It will be handled through appropriate channels," she said.

Officials declined to disclose the contents of the letter, which will be passed on to Washington.

Kerry, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for president in 2004, and two U.S. congressmen shunned the Islamists' group during their Gaza visit, which came one month after a 22-day Israeli offensive in which some 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died.

During his visit, Kerry blamed Hamas for provoking Israel's wrath by firing cross-border rockets into the Jewish state.

Hamas won a 2006 Palestinian election and seized control of the Gaza Strip 18 months later after routing forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The United States and the European Union boycott the Islamist group over its refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by interim peace deals with Israel.