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Kerry steps cautiously into Hamas territory

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Hamas: A good step forward

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A senior Hamas leader said he considered the US congressmens' visit, and the fact that they were seeing the aftermath of the offensive for themselves, a good step toward forward. The BBC reported that Hamas gave a letter addressed to Mr. Obama to a visiting US politician, though it was not clear whether that was Kerry.

Shaarhabel Alzeem, a prominent lawyer, told Kerry that long border closures were major problems, fueling frustrations and radicalism in Gaza. He said the opening of the borders would release tensions.

Israel plays the Shalit card

But for Israel, securing the borders and ending the smuggling of arms and other goods through the Gaza tunnels is a critical issue, which the Monitor detailed in this recent article.

On Wednesday, Israel’s security cabinet voted to make the opening of Israel’s border crossings with Gaza – a central Hamas demand for any long-term cease-fire arrangement – conditional on the release of an Israeli soldier held by Hamas.

Jerusalem bureau chief Ilene Prusher laid that out well in her Feb. 19 piece about the negotiations, which you can read here.

Israeli politics shift right, possibly complicating US ties

But hopes for a revival of the peace process were clouded Thursday when the jockeying for a new Israeli government after last week’s election took a turn to the right. Israeli right-wing politician Avigdor Lieberman threw his weight behind Benjamin Netanyahu (read our story here), raising concerns that they could put Israel at odds with the US and its new president’s goals for resolution to the drawn-out conflict.

But former Senator George Mitchell, Obama’s envoy to the Middle East, has seen such setbacks before as peace broker in Northern Ireland. As correspondent Mark Rice-Oxley laid out in this recent piece, those who know him say if anyone can bring peace to the Mideast, it’s Senator Mitchell.

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