Gaza Siege Crime: Carter

CAIRO – Former US president Jimmy Carter has denounced the crippling Israeli siege on Gaza as a crime and an atrocity that leave the 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza starving to death.

"It’s an atrocity what is being perpetrated as punishment on the people in Gaza. it’s a crime," Carter said in a speech at the American University in Cairo on Thursday, April 17, reported Reuters.

"I think it is an abomination that this continues to go on."

Israel, backed by the US, has sealed off Gaza from all but vital goods since Hamas seized power last June after routing rival Fatah.

Carter, winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace prize, said the Palestinians in Gaza were being "starved to death", receiving less calories a day than people in the poorest parts of Africa.

He said Israel and its ally the US were trying to make the quality of life in Gaza markedly worse than in the West Bank, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah holds sway.

Eight British aid groups said last month the 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza are living through the worst humanitarian crisis in 40 years due to the ongoing Israeli blockade.

Hamas for Peace

Carter, the architect of the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty, said the US attempts to isolate Hamas had been counterproductive.

"I think politically speaking this has worked even to strengthen the popularity of Hamas and to the detriment of the popularity of Fatah," he said.

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.

Carter, who is on a nine-day visit to promote the Middle East peace process, said the Hamas leaders he met in Cairo on Thursday told him that the resistance group would accept a peace agreement with Israel negotiated by Mahmoud Abbas if the Palestinians approved it in a referendum.

The former US president met with former Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar and former Interior Minister Saeed Seyam in Cairo on Thursday.

Zahar said the talks tackled the possibility of a truce between the Palestinian resistance group in Gaza and Israel.

"President Carter talked of humanitarian proposals linked to the truce," he told AFP.

"We had common points of view and the talks will continue today during the meeting with the political leadership of Hamas in Damascus."

Israel has rejected Hamas proposals for a truce including an end to rocket fire into Israel and to Israeli assaults.

Israel and the US also refuse to deal with Hamas before it accepts the Quartet’s conditions on recognizing Israel and renounce "violence".

Carter, who was due in Syria on Friday for talks with Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal despite opposition from Israel and the White House, said Hamas had to be involved in any arrangements that could lead to peace.

"One of the reasons I wanted to come and meet with the Syrians and Hamas was to set an example that might be emulated by others," he said.

"I know that there are some officials in the Israeli government that are quite willing to meet with Hamas and maybe that will happen in the near future."

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai has said that he is ready to also meet Meshaal to negotiate the release of an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas to swap with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

"I am ready to meet with all necessary Hamas members," Haaretz quoted Yishai as telling Carter during a meeting this week.
( and agencies)

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