Mahmoud al-Zahar

JERUSALEM – Hamas has received a diplomatic message from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice thanking the terror group for its efforts in maintaining a cease fire in the Gaza Strip, a senior Hamas leader announced today.

If accurate, the alleged message would be the first public communication between the Bush administration and Hamas, which Israel is seeking to isolate.

Mahmoud al-Zahar, chief of Hamas in Gaza, announced at a press conference in Syria today that Rice in recent days sent a diplomatic message to Hamas praising the terror group for its efforts in maintaining a cease fire in the Gaza Strip.

Zahar claimed the alleged message was sent via the U.S. Embassy in Damascus and handed to Hamas by a visiting Arab foreign minister. Zahar did not release the actual alleged message, but he said it was in response to a formal letter sent last month to the Middle East Quartet by Ahmed Youssef, senior Hamas political adviser in Gaza, in which Yousef argued the Quartet had no basis for isolating Hamas. The Quartet consists of the U.S., United Nations, European Union and Russia.

In an exclusive interview with WND today, Yousef said he had not personally seen any message but he heard from Hamas leaders in Syria that they received the purported letter from Rice.

He said for the past two years he has routinely sent messages to the Quartet but never once received a reply from the U.S. He said he did not know what prompted Rice to purportedly convey a message back to Hamas.

In a separate interview today, a top Hamas source told WND his terror group has been making headway in ending its international isolation. He claimed Hamas was in communication with unspecified elements in the U.S., including unnamed presidential candidates, and with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who serves as the Quartet’s main Mideast envoy.

The source said he believes there will be a meeting in the future between Hamas and Blair.

Hamas’ charter calls for the murder of Jews and destruction of Israel. In April, Former President Jimmy Carter met with Hamas’ most senior leadership in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and in Syria in a move widely seen as breaking the dam of Hamas’ isolation.

Immediately after Carter’s meeting, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner confirmed Paris held talks with Hamas and Norway’s deputy foreign minister, Raymond Johansan, admitted meeting with Hamas leader Ismail Haniya.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum confirmed to WND that Hamas this year “met a delegation from the European Parliament, from France, and from Italy and Norway and from the EU parliament and from Carter.”

“All of these are supporting Hamas, and they have a plan to support Palestinian rights and interests,” Barhoum said, speaking from Gaza.


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