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(photo credit: AP)
Quartet envoy Tony Blair intervened directly with Defense Minister Ehud Barak to enable Northern Ireland politician Gerry Adams through the Erez Crossing and into the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, where he met Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The decision to let Adams into the Gaza Strip came against recommendations by the Foreign Ministry, which had urged that Israel not facilitate his passage because he was unwilling to promise not to meet with Hamas representatives.
The Foreign Ministry was concerned that high profile meetings of international politicians with Hamas would only grant the organization legitimacy.
Defense officials said the decision to allow Adams into Gaza was taken by Barak after Blair brought a personal request to him during a meeting earlier this week.
The officials said Blair had told Barak that Adams, the leader of the Irish Republican Army-linked Sinn Fein party, had experience as a mediator, and could pass messages and act as a go-between for Israel and Hamas.
Israeli officials refused to meet with Adams because he was willing to meet with Hamas representatives.
Adams is scheduled to go to Ramallah for talks on Friday.
Adams's meeting with Haniyeh, at an undisclosed location in Gaza City, was not announced ahead of time.
TV footage from a local news outlet showed Adams sitting in an armchair next to Haniyeh. "We want to help. We support the Palestinian people," Adams said.
Following the meeting with Haniyeh, Adams said he had "outlined to him Sinn Fein's view that there should be a complete cessation of all hostilities and armed actions by all sides. The fact is that the people of Palestine and the people of Israel are destined to live side by side. I believe that most people want a peaceful accommodation," he said.
"Following my meeting with Mr. Haniyeh," Adams continued, "I believe that progress is possible. As I have said consistently, there needs to be a dialogue between the people of Palestine and their leadership and the people of Israel and their leadership. That is what worked in Ireland."
Adams said he had met with special US Mideast envoy George Mitchell in Washington last month and told him of his plan to visit Gaza. He said he planned to "brief the Irish government, friends in the US, others I deal with internationally, and that would include Sen. Mitchell."
Mitchell and Adams have known each other since the former US senator helped broker a Northern Ireland peace deal in the 1990s.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said in reaction to the Adams-Haniyeh meeting that Hamas was running to meet with foreign leaders and speak about peace, but refused to reconcile with the legal Palestinian Authority leadership, recognize Israel or abandon terrorism.
Haniyeh welcomed Adams as "a man of rich political experience who faced circumstances in Ireland similar to what we face in Gaza."
Adams, who had visited Sderot and Kibbutz Kfar Aza on Tuesday, said he found it "deeply saddening" to realize "the depth of the human tragedy" on both sides.
Yaakov Katz and AP contributed to this report.