Hamas Official Said to Receive Letter From Shalit

Palestinian sources say Mussa Abu Marzuk, the deputy head of Hamas' political bureau, has received a letter from captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida reported yesterday.

Abu Marzuk, who is based in Damascus, reportedly received the letter while in the Gaza Strip over the weekend, where he met with several leaders of Hamas' military wing, including Shalit's abductors. The newspaper said the letter, whose contents were not divulged, will be handed over to the Syrian foreign ministry.

Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida refused to either confirm or deny the report.

Abu Marzuk's visit to Gaza, which was conducted in secret, took place with Egypt's agreement, apparently as part of efforts to win Shalit's release and get Hamas and Fatah to reconcile.

Shalit's father, Noam Shalit, had requested a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss the release of his son, but "it didn't work out," he said. However, a group advocating the soldier's release said yesterday it was still possible the two might speak by phone either during the night or today.

Nine Palestinians were wounded yesterday in an Israel Air Force strike in southern Gaza, near Rafah, that was aimed at arms-smuggling tunnels and came in reaction to rocket fire from Gaza. Six tunnels were damaged in the air strike, and the Israel Defense Forces said explosives in the tunnel caused a secondary blast.

In a separate incident, IDF forces fired warning shots and two mortar shells at three armed militants spotted approaching the Gaza border fence yesterday morning, the army said. It said they were planning to place explosives on the fence, but fled when the IDF opened fire.

In addition, Palestinians in Gaza fired a Qassam rocket at southern Israel last night.

The Ashkelon parents council, meanwhile, decided yesterday to suspend its two-day shutdown of local schools, in response to a request by Religious Services Minister Yitzhak Cohen. Cohen told the parents, who had closed the schools because they are not protected from rocket attacks, that he would raise the issue at tomorrow's cabinet meeting. The shutdown, which began Monday, came after a Qassam rocket hit a school yard in the city Saturday.