A very interesting new report in tomorrow’s Guardian suggests that the Obama team may take a very different – though secretive – approach to Hamas. Suzanne Goldenberg, the Guardian’s US correspondent writes:

The incoming Obama administration is prepared to abandon George Bush’s –doctrine of isolating Hamas by establishing a channel to the Islamist organisation, sources close to the transition team say.

The move to open contacts with Hamas, which could be initiated through the US intelligence services, would represent a definitive break with the Bush –presidency’s ostracising of the group…

The Guardian has spoken to three –people with knowledge of the discussions in the Obama camp. There is no talk of Obama approving direct diplomatic negotiations with Hamas early on, but he is being urged by advisers to initiate low-level or clandestine approaches, and there is growing recognition in Washington that the policy of ostracising Hamas is counter-productive…

Richard Haass, a diplomat under both Bush presidents who was named by a number of news organisations this week as Obama’s choice for Middle East envoy, supports low-level contacts with Hamas provided there is a ceasefire in place and a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation emerges…

Another potential contender for a –foreign policy role in the Obama administration suggested that the president-elect would not be bound by the Bush doctrine of isolating Hamas.

"This is going to be an administration that is committed to negotiating with –critical parties on critical issues," the source said.

Even a secretive and low level approach would be a significant step in the right direction – let’s hope Ms. Goldenberg’s sources are right.

In the meantime, conditions in Gaza continue to get unbelievably worse. So bad in fact, that the Red Cross which “normally conducts confidential negotiations with warring parties” issued a very strong statement today protesting Israel’s:

"unacceptable" delays in letting rescue workers reach three Gaza City homes hit by shelling where they eventually found 15 dead and 18 wounded, including young children too weak to stand.

The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross said the Israeli army refused rescuers permission to reach the site in the Zeitoun neighborhood for four days. Ambulances could not get to the neighborhood because the Israeli army had erected large earthen barriers that blocked access…

Eventually, rescuers from the international Red Cross and Palestine Red Crescent received permission to go into the shelled houses on Wednesday, four days after the buildings were hit by Israeli shells…

The rescue team "found four small children next to their dead mothers in one of the houses. They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up," the statement said. "In all, there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses" in one of the houses, it added.

The Geneva-based organization said the children and the wounded had to be transported by donkey cart to ambulances.

"The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded," the international Red Cross said. "Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestine Red Crescent to assist the wounded."…

The organization said it believes "in this instance, the Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded."

And the UN suspended all aid work in Gaza:

The move came after a Palestinian driver of a UN-contracted truck was killed by Israeli tank fire as he drove towards an Israeli border crossing to pick up humanitarian aid.

In a second incident yesterday, a three-vehicle UN convoy, which included two international staff members, came under "direct fire" from Israeli forces as it drove into Gaza to collect the body of a colleague killed earlier in the week, UNRWA said.

While the possibility of a shift to a dialogue with Hamas in an Obama administration is very good news, the people of Gaza can’t wait. The UN Security Council has just voted for an immediate cease-fire, Condi Rice speaking for the U.S. abstained.