The exiled head of Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, said "positive contacts" have been made towards securing a long-term truce with Israel, in a video posted Friday on an Arab website.
Meshaal's comments posted by pan-Arab news website Al-Arabi Al-Jadid were the first by a leader of Hamas, which does not recognise Israel, to openly confirm such contacts with Israel.
Israel, which launched a military offensive against the Gaza Strip that Hamas rules last year, has denied any direct or indirect contacts with the movement.
"So far the contacts seem positive. But so far we haven't reached any agreement. We cannot say today that we have something in our hand. There are only discussions," Meshaal said.
"The question is how to resolve the Gaza problem? We are open to all efforts: Palestinian, Arab, Islamic, regional and international... But this will not occur at the expense of the unity of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip," he said.
On Tuesday, the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority accused Hamas of holding secret talks with Israel that would endorse the separation of the Palestinian territories.
Arab and Turkish media have carried reports, picked up by Israeli media, of talks aimed at reaching an eight- or 10-year truce in return for Israel lifting its blockade on Gaza.
"There have been negotiations and they are on the verge of reaching an agreement about a truce of eight to 10 years," Palestinian foreign minister Riad al-Malki said.
"There are mediators who are doing their utmost to reach this agreement," he said.
The Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas's rival, said ex-British prime minister and former international Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair was acting as a mediator.
"The Hamas-Blair agreement... paves the way for the division and isolation of the Gaza Strip," said Fatah spokesman Ahmed Assaf.
This, he added, would help "Israel to achieve its goal of preventing the creation of a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders", he said on Monday.
Since 2007, Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank have been under the control of the rival administrations of Hamas and Fatah, respectively.
Meshaal laid out the other points being discussed apart from the blockade: the reconstruction of war-battered Gaza, the opening of crossing points on the coastal strip's borders, and opening of a seaport and airport.
He stressed that any truce with Israel would be "geographically limited to the Gaza Strip alone".
*This story was edited by Ahram Online.