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Carter meets ex-Hamas member despite criticism

Latest update : 2008-04-15

Former US President Jimmy Carter met former Hamas minister Naser al-Shaer amid criticism from Washington and Israel. Carter has angered the Israeli government over plans to meet top Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Syria.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter met an ex-minister in Hamas's government on Tuesday, defying Israeli leaders who shunned the Nobel Peace Prize laureate over his contacts with the Islamist movement.

Carter said he had sought to visit the Gaza Strip, which Hamas seized in June after routing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's secular Fatah faction. He said the request was turned down, but he did not point the finger at Israel.

A member of Carter's delegation in the West Bank city of Ramallah said Israel rejected the request.

All of the border crossings between Israel and Gaza are controlled by the Jewish state. Egyptian forces are stationed at Gaza's southern border, which is largely closed.

"I haven't been able to get permission to go into Gaza. I would like to. I asked for permission. But I was turned down. But maybe we can find a way to circumvent that. I don't know yet," Carter said.

The former U.S. leader has angered the Israeli government over plans to meet Hamas' top leader, Khaled Meshaal, in Syria, and for describing Israeli policy in the occupied Palestinian territories as "a system of apartheid" in a 2006 book.

Despite heavy Israeli criticism since his arrival on Sunday, Carter met Naser al-Shaer, who served as deputy prime minister in the Hamas-led government formed by the Islamist group after it won parliamentary elections in 2006.

Shaer, who has frequently met Abbas since Hamas's takeover of Gaza, is an Islamist with close ties to Hamas.

Like most foreign dignitaries, Carter placed a wreath at the mausoleum of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

U.S. President George W. Bush pointedly did not do so during his recent visit to Ramallah. The Bush administration had shunned Arafat, who died in 2004, accusing him of fomenting violence, an allegation he had denied.

Carter, who stressed he was not acting as a negotiator or a mediator, said he hoped "just as a communicator" to relay to
"leaders of the United States" what Hamas and Syria have to say.

Carter, who brokered Israel's first peace treaty with an
Arab neighbour, Egypt, signed in 1979, met Israel's ceremonial
president Shimon Peres on Sunday but was shunned by Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert and other policymakers.



Carter said on Tuesday he would use his meeting with Meshaal to "get him to agree to a peaceful resolution of differences, both with the Israelis ... and also with Fatah".

"Since Syria and Hamas will have to be involved in the final peace agreement, they ought to be involved in the discussions leading up to ... peace," Carter said.

Israel and the United States have sought to isolate Hamas in the Gaza Strip and bolster Abbas, who holds sway in the occupied West Bank and has launched U.S.-backed peace talks with Olmert.

The Bush administration and Israel oppose Carter's planned meeting with Meshaal, whose Islamist group won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 but was boycotted by the West for refusing to renounce violence and recognise Israel.

"I'm just trying to understand different opinions and communicate ... between people who won't communicate with each other," Carter said. "So I think that if he (Meshaal) does have anything constructive to say, he or the president of Syria..., then I will bring that to other people."

Hamas leaders have offered a long-term truce with Israel in return for a viable Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but the group's 1988 founding charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Date created : 2008-04-15