Diplomatic sources say new U.S. President Barack Obama is sending his Middle East envoy, former Senator George Mitchell, to the region next week.

The sources say Saturday Mitchell is expected to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Earlier this week, Mr. Obama said Mitchell would travel to the region soon to make sure the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip is sustainable, saying he is deeply concerned about the loss of Palestinian and Israeli life.

News of the trip comes as painstaking behind-the-scenes negotiations are getting underway in Egypt between Egyptian mediators and Hamas, which controls Gaza.

Egyptian officials say they are trying to broker a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, as well as help reconcile Hamas with Fatah, its rival Palestinian faction which controls the West Bank.

Earlier Saturday, a Hamas delegation met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  Syrian state media say Mr. Assad congratulated Hamas on what he called its "victory" in Gaza.

The Hamas delegation says it is on a regional tour to thank countries it says supported the Palestinian people during the offensive.

Israeli officials have said the offensive achieved its goal, dealing a heavy blow to Hamas and deterring future rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.

Meanwhile, thousands of children in the Gaza Strip are returning to schools that were shut during an Israeli offensive against Hamas militants in the Palestinian territory.

Schools run by the United Nations re-opened Saturday, after being shut for nearly a month because of the violence.  Some schools had been used as refugee shelters during the conflict, and several were hit by Israeli fire.

Some 1,300 Palestinians were killed during Israel's 22-day offensive, which ended after both sides declared ceasefires last Sunday.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.