Carter Blasts Israel's Closure of Gaza After Meeting Hamas Leaders

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - In a highly criticized move, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is due to meet with Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal in Damascus on Friday. That meeting comes one day after Carter met with Gaza-based Hamas officials in Cairo. He spent about three hours talking to them.

Carter, who says he in on a private peace mission in the Middle East, blasted Israel's closure of the Gaza Strip after meeting the Hamas officials, who had traveled to Cairo after Israel apparently refused to let Carter cross into the Gaza Strip.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are being "starved to death" and are consuming fewer calories a day than those living in the poorest parts of Africa, Carter charged during an address at the American University in Cairo.

"It's an atrocity what is being perpetrated as punishment on the people of Gaza. It's a crime...I think it is an abomination that this continues to go on," he said after meeting with Gaza-based Hamas leaders who traveled to Cairo.

Humanitarian aid organizations have strongly criticized Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

But the United Nations Relief Works Agency, which handles affairs for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees living in the Gaza Strip, confirmed to Cybercast News Service on Friday that UNRWA is not using the word "starvation" to describe the situation there.

Humanitarian aid trucks are crossing into the Gaza Strip almost every day, bringing basic food and medical supplies, the army said. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has pledged that he will not allow a humanitarian crisis to develop in the Gaza Strip.

Israel sealed off the area after Hamas seized power in a coup, ousting forces loyal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in June. Israel further tightened its control over the border earlier this year in an attempt to stop rocket fire against Israeli communities.

Carter said he had asked Hamas to stop firing rockets at southern Israel.

By midday Friday, eight rockets and mortars had been launched at Israel since midnight, the army said.

Carter defended his talks with Hamas officials by saying that Hamas must be involved in any Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

According to its ideology, Hamas is not interested in peace with Israel but wants to establish an Islamic Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and all of Israel.

Carter angered many in Israel by meeting with Hamas leaders, prompting Olmert and other senior ministers to avoid meeting with him. But Carter says there are "some officials in the Israeli government who are quite willing to meet with Hamas."

On Friday, the Israeli website YNET reported that Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, was willing to meet Hamas officials to discuss the release of prisoners only - not to discuss political or other issues.

Friday's talks with Mashaal in Damascus are expected to focus on Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was abducted in a cross border attack in which Hamas participated in the summer of 2005.

Carter's meetings with Hamas officials only legitimize Hamas and weaken Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen], said veteran Israeli journalist Roni Shaked from the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot.

"He's going to make Abu Mazen and democracy -- the hope of the Palestinians -- very, very weak," said Shaked in a radio interview. It will pave the way for officials from other countries to meet with Hamas, he said.

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