The United States has received a letter from the Palestinian Hamas movement for President Barack Obama, who considers the Islamist group a terrorist organization, a US official confirmed Friday.
"I can confirm that it was from Hamas to President Obama," a State Department official said on condition of anonymity, adding that US officials were weighing "how it should be treated."
According to the New York Times, the two-page document was drafted by Ahmed Yousef, the Hamas deputy foreign minister, who asked Obama to engage with his movement, rather than marginalize it.
"There can be no peace without Hamas," Yousef said he had written in the letter.
“We congratulated Mr. Obama on his presidency and reminded him that he should live up to his promise to bring real change to the region. The Palestinian issue is the key to resolving all the problems in the area. We also said that Mr. Kerry’s visit to Gaza showed that the new administration has clarity of vision and is not controlled by Israeli propaganda," he was quoted by the American newspaper as saying.
Obama has said Washington cannot negotiate with Hamas until it recognizes Israel, renounces violence and agrees to abide by peace deals between the Jewish state and the Palestinians.
Democratic Senator John Kerry received the letter on Friday from a UN official in Gaza who did not tell him that it was from Hamas, a spokesman for the lawmaker told AFP.
"It was in a sealed envelope, addressed to the president of the United States," the spokesman, Frederick Jones, told AFP by telephone.
Kerry received the letter from the head of UNRWA, the agency for Palestinian refugees, at the end of a meeting in Gaza, but the UN official did not tell him who it was from, which the senator only learned from news reports, said Jones.
'We are very polite at UNRWA'
Kerry "left Gaza for meetings with Israeli defense officials and learned according to news reports that a UN official had informed the press that the letter was from Hamas. Senator Kerry turned the letter over to the Consul General in Jerusalem this morning to handle through appropriate channels," he said.
"The consulate is now looking at how it should be treated," according to the State Department official, who said he described it as coming from the group because "that is what the senator reported. That it was from Hamas."
But a spokesman for UNRWA, Christopher Gunness, said the letter had been "left at the gate of our offices in Gaza" and was "believed to be from Hamas."
Asked about the contents of the letter, Gunness said: "We are very polite at UNRWA, we don't open other people's mail."
He said the letter was given to Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when he met relief officials at the UN compound during his tour of the devastated enclave, which no US official had visited in years.
Kerry did not meet any Hamas representative during his Gaza visit and stressed that his presence in the coastal strip did not indicate a shift of US policy towards the Islamist group.
The United States, the European Union and Israel all list Hamas as a terrorist organization.