Qatar is mediating talks on a long-term truce between the Islamic group and Israel, sources in Ramallah said under the on condition of anonymity. However Jerusalem denies such negotiations are taking place.
According to the sources, Qatar, considered a close ally of Hamas, has accepted a request from the Syrian-based Hamas leader Khaled Mishal to mediate a deal with Israel and stave off an all-out Israeli assault on Gaza.
Qatar is trying to conclude a deal to end Israeli attacks on Gaza in return for Hamas stopping the homemade rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel.
A truce with Hamas could also clinch a prisoner exchange deal to release kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in return for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.
Hamas asked Qatar to mediate when Cairo refused to allow some 1900 Gaza pilgrims to return home through the Rafah crossing.
Fearing Israeli arrests, the pilgrims, mostly members of Hamas, wish to return home via the Egyptian controlled Rafah terminal.
Israel wants the pilgrims to return through the Israeli-controlled Aouja so it can search them and prevent the likely smuggling of cash into Gaza.
In protest against Egypt’s actions, angry Hamas loyalists in Gaza fired guns into the air and set off bombs. The rioting was quickly quelled by Hamas security forces.
The change in Egyptian policy was also the result of Israeli pressure on Cairo to crack down on weapons smuggling into Gaza via the network of underground tunnels on the Gaza.border
At the Sharm El Sheikh talks last week, Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak asked Egyptian officials to prevent the arms smuggling into Gaza via the Sinai desert.
Hamas officials, criticized Egypt for the Gaza pilgrim stand off, saying “Egypt has a responsibility to bring the pilgrimages back to Gaza as quickly as possible.”