Members of the incoming Obama administration have been in contact with
Hamas political leaders, the sources said. They said senior aides have urged
Obama to consider a U.S. dialogue with Hamas to renew efforts to establish
a Palestinian state in the West Bank.
"The message by the Obama people to Hamas is 'Be patient and
responsible, and we will see you as a partner,'" the source said.
On Jan. 14, Egypt said Hamas had agreed in principle to a 10-day
ceasefire with Israel, which would include a military withdrawal from the
Gaza Strip. The announcement sparked alarm in Israel's government, which
sent senior officials to Egypt and the United States.
"We're working with Hamas and we're working with the Israeli side,"
Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said. "We hope to reach an
On Jan. 15, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Israel and the
United States would sign a memorandum of understanding in which Washington
would provide intelligence to Israel on Hamas weapons smuggling. The MoU,
expected to be signed imminently, would also ensure the provision of Western
technology and maritime patrols to help Egypt stop weapons smuggling along
the Sinai-Gaza border.
"At the crux of the cooperation agreement between Israel and the U.S. is
supervision to halt the smuggling of arms from Iran, through the Persian
Gulf to Sudan and other countries, and finally to Hamas in the Gaza Strip,"
The Egyptian ceasefire proposal has divided the Israeli leadership.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was said to oppose any ceasefire or withdrawal
until the Egypt-Gaza border is secured from weapons smuggling. Defense
Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni were said to support an
The Israeli intelligence community, most of which supports the
continuation of the ground operation in the Gaza Strip, has determined that
Hamas succeeded in preserving most of its military capabilities. The
community has assessed that Hamas's military, said to number up to 25,000,
lost no more than 300 operatives during the 19 days of Israel's Operation
"Fighting is taking place in an urban area, densely built and densely
populated," Israeli Chief of Staff Lt.Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said. "Hamas is
firing at our forces and we are firing back."
For his part, Obama stressed that his administration would conduct a
dialogue with Iran and Syria as part of peace efforts in the Middle East.
The president-elect said he would also continue the efforts of President
George Bush to establish a Palestinian state.
"We're gonna have to take a regional approach," Obama said in an
interview on U.S. television on Jan. 15. "We're gonna have to involve Syria
in discussions. We're going have to engage Iran in ways that we have not
before. We've got to have a clear bottom line that Israel's security is
paramount. But that also we have to create a two-state solution where people
can live side by side in peace."