The US has confirmed receiving a letter from a Hamas leader addressed to President Barack Obama, though the Palestinian group insists the letter speaks for its author not the group or its Gaza government.
"I can confirm that it was from Hamas to President Obama," a State Department official told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
He said that US officials were weighing "how it should be treated".
The letter was given to Democratic Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate’s powerful Foreign Relations Committee, by the head of the UN aid agency UNRWA Karen AbuZayd during Kerry’s rare visit to the Gaza Strip.
Kerry, a former presidential contender, insisted he did not know the letter’s contents and had handed it over to the US consulate in West Jerusalem
"It was in a sealed envelope, addressed to the president of the United States," Frederick Jones, a spokesman for Kerry, told AFP.
UNRWA said the letter had been left at the front of its compound in Gaza City.
The letter was authored by Ahmed Youssef, a deputy foreign minister in the Hamas-led Gaza government.
The Palestinian group, which has been controlling the Gaza Strip since June 2007, has earlier denied sending a letter to the US president.
"We have no idea about this message," spokesman Fawzi Barhum told IslamOnline.net.
"I have only heard about it from the media."
Sources at the office of Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the Gaza government, also denied sending the letter to Obama.
Hamas and its government insisted the letter was a personal initiative by the sender and not on their behalf.
Youssef, a political advisor to Haniyeh, urged the new administration to make a change from the Bush administration.
"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."
He also praised Senator Kerry’s rare Gaza visit.
"We also said that Mr. Kerry’s visit to Gaza showed that the new administration has a clarity of vision and is not controlled by Israeli propaganda."
Kerry and Democratic representatives Brian Baird and Keith Ellison paid separate visits to Gaza on Thursday.
The lawmakers were shocked by the scale of destruction wrecked on the densely-populated coastal enclave by Israel’s recent onslaught, which also killed nearly 1,400 people.
Youssef stressed in his two-page letter that there can be no peace without Hamas.
"The Palestinian issue is the key to resolving all the problems in the area," he wrote.
"There can be no peace without Hamas."
The US lists the Palestinian resistance group a "terrorist" organization.
The US and Europe have rejected contacts with Hamas since the group swept Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and came to power.
The US and Israel also led an international campaign to impose a crippling siege on the densely-populated Gaza Strip, home to nearly 1.6 million.
The West officially links any talks with Hamas to its recognition of Israel, acceptance of signed peace agreements and end of what is described as "violence" against Israel.
Late last month, Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair criticized the West’s isolation of Hamas, calling for its inclusion in the peace process.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday, January 19, urged the West to respect the democratic Palestinian elections that brought Hamas to power.
(IslamOnline.net and Agencies)