The United States has received a letter from the Palestinian Hamas movement for President Barack Obama, who considers the militant 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."
It was not clear whether the letter was an overture to Obama, who 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 gave the letter to the US consulate in Jerusalem early Friday, after receiving it 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.
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."
Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since ousting forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in June 2007, has flatly denied giving Kerry a letter.
"However, we are willing to forge ties with anyone who is ready to back the rights of the Palestinian people," spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP in the Gaza Strip.
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.
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