Former Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry yesterday became the first high-level US visitor to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in a move interpreted as heralding a possible new approach by the Obama presidency.
Mr Kerry, now head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, did not meet Hamas representatives and used his visit to urge the Islamic faction to end its attacks on Israel. UN Relief and Works agency officials passed on a letter which they presumed to be from Hamas, which had been earlier delivered to its headquarters for Mr Kerry to take back to President Obama.
Mr Kerry's trip – which also coincided with one by two other US congressmen – was the first by a high-profile American politician since three US diplomatic staff members were killed in a Gaza bombing in October 2003. The possible Hamas overture came as leaders of the Palestinian faction held a series of talks with a steady stream of European MPs on private trips to the region as Hamas attempts to overcome an EU and US refusal to engage because of its continued commitment to the destruction of Israel.
Mr Kerry toured the American School building which was attacked during Israel's 22-day offensive, and asked administrators whether Israel was letting in enough supplies.
Sharhabeel al-Zaeem, a member of the school's board, said Israel was supplying only "the minimum". She added: "We hope you can talk to your colleagues and say that we want peace with Israel. But we also need to live respectable lives." Mr Kerry replied that "your political leadership" had yet to make clear it was willing to move in the direction of peace and added that it "needs to understand that any nation that has rockets hitting it for many years threatening its residents is going to respond."
Mr Kerry also visited the Israeli town of Sderot which has borne the brunt of rocket attacks.
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