U.S. officials: Hamas slipped note to Obama via senator

    * Story Highlights
    * Disputed letter for Obama is in hands of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem
    * Hamas spokesman denies that organization sent correspondence
    * Obama has not ruled out talks but said the group must first meet 

By Elise Labott
CNN State Department Producer

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas passed Sen. John Kerry a 
letter for President Obama while Kerry visited Gaza on Thursday, senior State 
Department officials said.

The letter for the president is in the hands of the U.S. Consulate in 
Jerusalem, the officials said Friday.

Kerry, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 
toured the devastation in Gaza and met with officials from the U.N. Works 
Relief Agency, the main provider of humanitarian aid in Gaza.

Frederick Jones, the committee's communications director, told CNN at the end 
of Kerry's meeting with UNRWA chief Karen Abu Zayed that "she handed [Kerry] a 
letter addressed to the president of the United States along with other 

The U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist organization and has no contact with the 

Kerry, D-Massachusetts, first learned that the letter was included in the 
materials, Jones said, after he left Gaza for meetings in Israel, when reports 
began to emerge that he had a letter from Hamas. VideoWatch Kerry tour the Gaza 
devastation »

Without elaborating, Abu Zayed told BBC radio that Hamas had handed over a 

Kerry's visit was part of a delegation including Reps. Brian Baird, 
D-Washington, and Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, the first Muslim to serve in the 
U.S. Congress.

Although Kerry also visited Gaza separately from the two congressmen, according 
to an official who was traveling with the senator, none of the U.S. lawmakers 
visited representatives of Gaza's Hamas leadership.

The Gaza visit was the first by U.S. officials since Hamas seized control of 
the territory in 2007, effectively splitting the Palestinian government.

Jones said that because the letter was not addressed to Kerry but to Obama, the 
senator did not open it.

"Kerry turned the letter over to the consul general in Jerusalem this morning 
to handle through appropriate channels," Jones said Friday.

Fawzi Barhoum, a Gaza-based spokesman for Hamas, denied that the organization 
had sent a letter to Obama via the United Nations and Kerry, saying that if 
Hamas chose to speak with the American administration, this is not the method 
it would employ.

But senior State Department officials told CNN that after reviewing the letter, 
the consulate determined that it was indeed from Hamas. Consulate officials are 
discussing the matter with the State Department and White House.

Consulate spokeswoman Mica Schweitzer-Bloom would say only that Kerry handed 
consulate officials a letter for the president and "it will be handled by the 
appropriate channels."

Obama has not ruled out talks with Hamas but said the group must first renounce 
violence, recognize Israel and abide by previous agreements successive 
Palestinian governments have reached with the Israelis.

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