U.S. officials have reportedly been engaged in discreet talks with Hamas
for more than six months over the designated terrorist group's participation in the Palestinian Authority's new unity government.
"Two senior diplomatic sources with direct knowledge of the talks" have told BuzzFeed
that the meetings involved "U.S. intermediaries" and Hamas leaders "who live outside the Gaza Strip in third-party countries ranging from Egypt to Qatar and Jordan."
"Topics included the cease-fire agreement with Israel and the recently formed unity government between Hamas and Fatah," BuzzFeed reports.
"Our administration needed to hear from them that this unity government would move toward democratic elections and toward a more peaceful resolution with the entire region," a U.S. official "familiar with the talks" told BuzzFeed.
The news site says the official "spoke on condition of anonymity, as the U.S government's official stance is that it has not, and will not, talk to Hamas until certain preconditions are met."
"It was important to have that line of communication," the official told BuzzFeed.
"These assertions are completely untrue," State Department deputy spokesman Marie Harf told BuzzFeed. "There is no such back channel. Our position on Hamas has not changed."
If the report is true, it contradicts repeated claims by the Obama administration that, to its knowledge, Hamas officials are not actively part of the unity government.
"They are all technocrats, unaffiliated with any political party, and are responsible for facilitating new elections," Harf said Tuesday of the new Palestinian cabinet, The Washington Post
Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated that claim at a Wednesday news conference in Beirut, using the same "technocrat" terminology.
"[B]ased on what we know now about the composition of this technocratic government, which has no minister affiliated to Hamas and is committed to the principles that I describe, we will work with it as we need to, as appropriate," Kerry said
The Israeli government has flatly refused to accept such a position.
"You cannot present it internally as a Hamas government and present it on the outside as a technocrats' government," Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio, the Jerusalem Post
"If these people are identified with Hamas, or are people with whom Hamas identifies and were appointed by Hamas, then these are Hamas representatives," Steinitz said.
"I'm deeply troubled by the announcement that the United States will work with the Palestinian government backed by Hamas," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Associated Press on Tuesday, saying the group has murdered "countless innocent civilians."
Kerry said Wednesday that the U.S. would be strictly monitoring the "technocratic government."
"I want to make it very clear we are going to be watching it very closely, as we have said from day one, to absolutely ensure that it upholds each of those things it has talked about, that it doesn't cross the line. And the law in the United States regarding assistance and engagement states specifically that it makes a judgment about undue influence by Hamas in any way.
"At the moment, we don't have that, and so we are looking to see as we go forward on a day-to-day evaluation – we will measure the composition, we will measure the policies of the new technocratic government, and we will calibrate our approach accordingly. So that is, I think, a much more precise description of exactly what the status is today."
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