Hamas Confirms Carter-Meshaal Meeting
'Preparations are going on to hold a meeting between Carter and Mr. Meshaal this week,' Abu Zuhri said.
The Palestinian resistance group Hamas confirmed on Saturday, April 12, a planned meeting between former US president Jimmy Carter and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Syria this week.
"Preparations are going on to hold a meeting between Carter and Mr. Meshaal this week," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told the Doha-based Al-Jazeera television.
Carter, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, will set off a nine-day trip to the Middle East on Sunday, April 13.
The Carter Center said the former president would lead a study mission to Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan as part of his peace efforts in the region.
Media reports said Carter, the architect of the 1979 Egypt-Israeli peace treaty, could meet Meshaal during his stop in Syria.
The planned meeting has infuriated the Bush administration, which has been seeking to isolate Hamas since it was voted to power in 2006.
"I find it hard to understand what is to be gained by having discussions with Hamas about peace when Hamas is in fact the impediment to peace," said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday.
The State Department said it has counseled Carter, a vocal critic of the Bush administration foreign policy, against meeting any Hamas leader.
"Hamas has been offered many opportunities to come into line with international standards concerning the Middle East," said Rice, who sought Carter's counsel on his own previous Arab-Israeli peacemaking efforts ahead of a US-hosted peace conference in Annapolis last November
"Hamas has been unwilling to do that," Rice added.
TALK TO HAMAS
Abu Zhuri said the Carter-Meshaal meeting signals the rising awareness in the West of the importance of talking to Hamas.
"It reflects the growing realization in the West of the importance of talking to Hamas," he told Al-Jazeera.
"It also shows that it impossible to reach arrangements in the region without Hamas."
A Carter-Meshaal meeting would be the first public contact in two years between a prominent American figure and Hamas officials.
The Hamas spokesman said the meeting would give the group an opportunity to explain its stances.
"We will also seek to defend the Palestinian rights and highlight the suffering of the Palestinian people," he said.
Israel, backed by the US, has sealed off Gaza from all but vital goods since Hamas seized power last June after routing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah group.
Citing confidential documents, the US magazine Vanity Fair revealed that the Bush administration had drawn up plans to topple the ruling Hamas after its 2006 parliamentary victory with the help of Fatah strongman Mohammad Dahlan, prompting Hamas to take a preemptive action by taking over the Gaza Strip.
Israel also stepped up its missile attacks against Gaza, killing at least 387 Palestinians since peace talks were relaunched during the Annapolis conference.
In a 2006 book, Carter described Israeli policy in the occupied territories as "a system of apartheid."
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