Hamas Rejects Carter Plea to Recognize Israel

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - A senior Hamas official praised
former President Jimmy Carter on Wednesday, a day after he met with
the group, but said he failed to persuade the Islamic rulers of
Gaza to accept international demands, including recognizing Israel.

Carter visited Gaza on Tuesday and urged Hamas leaders to accept
the demands to end an international boycott, which was imposed when
the militant group overran Gaza two years ago.

Carter's meeting was itself unusual because of the boycott. The
United States, European Union and Israel consider Hamas a terror
group and refuse to deal with it directly.

Ahmed Youssef, the deputy Hamas foreign minister, said Gaza's
Palestinians were pleased to receive Carter.

"The people think this is a historic visit," Youssef told The
Associated Press on Wednesday, describing Carter as "somebody very
knowledgeable about the conflict and very sincere in the way he
understands the conflict."

But Youssef said Hamas turned down Carter's policy requests.

"The visit has not led to a significant change. Hamas finds the
conditions unacceptable," he said. "Recognizing Israel is
completely unacceptable."

According to Hamas ideology, there is no room for a Jewish state
in an Islamic Middle East. The militant group has sent dozens of
suicide bombers into Israel, killing hundreds.

Even so, some Hamas officials have indicated they could support
creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, implying
a form of tacit acceptance of Israel.

Youssef said the other two international conditions - renouncing
violence and accepting past agreements between Israel and the
Palestinians - are irrelevant. He said Israel broke a cease-fire,
killing many Palestinians, and the state outlined in the partial
peace accords "would have no substance, no borders and nothing
that a real state is."

Carter has said that despite the world boycott, Mideast
peacemaking efforts must include Hamas, which took control of the
Gaza Strip in 2007, expelling forces loyal to Western-backed
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose government now
effectively rules only the West Bank.

Though as president Carter brokered the 1979 peace treaty
between Israel and Egypt, the first between Israel and an Arab
country, he is perceived by many Israelis as anti-Israel, siding
with the Palestinians in their conflict.

He antagonized many Israelis with his 2007 book, "Palestine:
Peace Not Apartheid," in which he argued that Israel must choose
between ceding the West Bank to the Palestinians or maintaining a
system of ethnic inequality similar to that of the apartheid regime
in South Africa. Most Israelis strongly reject the comparison.

During Carter's visit to Gaza on Tuesday, Hamas security found
what appeared to be explosives buried in a sand dune next to his
route. No one was hurt, and it was unclear if the former U.S.
president was being targeted.

"We were aware of some reports" of a threat to his safety,
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters in
Washington on Wednesday. "I'm sure we took appropriate security
steps, but obviously President Carter was there for a few hours and
returned safely."

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