April 16, 2008 / 8:32 AM / 12 years ago

Hamas says Carter will meet two of its leaders

GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas said on Wednesday former U.S. President Jimmy Carter would meet two of its leaders from Gaza in Egypt, in further defiance of Israeli leaders, who have shunned him over his contacts with the Islamist group.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter visits the grave of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah April 15, 2008. REUTERS/Atef Safadi/Pool

Hamas official Ayman Taha told Reuters senior leaders Mahmoud al-Zahar and Saeed Seyam would travel to Cairo later in the day for talks with Carter, who began a Middle East visit on Sunday.

“Mr Carter asked for the meeting. He wanted to hear the Hamas vision regarding the situation, and we are interested in clarifying our position and emphasising the rights of our people,” Taha said.

Carter’s delegation in Israel declined to comment.

Speaking at a peace forum in a hotel in Arab East Jerusalem, Carter said that to have Hamas “completely excluded even from conversations or consultations, I think, is counterproductive”. He did not say who he planned to meet in Egypt.

Carter had wanted to visit the Gaza Strip, which is governed by Hamas, but Israel rejected his request.

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

On Tuesday, in the occupied West Bank, Carter met Naser al-Shaer, who served as deputy prime minister in the Hamas-led government that the United States and other Western powers boycotted.

Hamas, which took control of the Gaza Strip by force in June from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, has rejected Western demands to recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept existing Israeli-Palestinian interim peace deals.

ISRAELI DISPLEASURE

Carter has angered the Israeli government with plans to meet Hamas’s top leader, Khaled Meshaal, in Syria, and by describing Israeli policy in the occupied Palestinian territories as “a system of apartheid” in a 2006 book.

Carter, a broker of Israel’s 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, met Israel’s ceremonial president Shimon Peres on Sunday but was shunned by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other policymakers.

Carter stressed he was not acting during his current regional visit as negotiator or mediator but that he hoped, “just as a communicator”, to relay to leaders of the United States what Hamas and Syria have to say.

Shaer said he and Carter had discussed efforts to broker an unofficial truce between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

He said Carter had also voiced a desire to help in trying to end the enmity between Hamas and Fatah.

Israel and Washington have sought to isolate Hamas and bolster Abbas, who has entered U.S.-backed peace talks with Olmert.

Like Israel, the Bush administration opposes Carter’s planned meeting with Meshaal.

Additional reporting by Brenda Gazzar in Jerusalem

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