Friday, April 18, 2008

Woodworkers of the World Unite Countries...

Carter sets out ceasefire plan in Hamas talks

From By Khaled Yacoub Oweis 2 hours, 15 minutes ago

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter set out plans for a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel at a meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal on Friday.
Carter held more than four hours of talks with Meshaal on Friday in one of the highest-profile meetings between the Islamist group that rules Gaza and a Western figure.

His aides planned to return for further talks with Hamas officials on Friday night, senior Hamas figure Mohammad Nazzal said. Carter's willingness to meet Hamas officials has drawn criticism from Israel and the United States.

The second round of talks would discuss details of proposals put forward by Carter and also examine the issue of the release of an Israeli soldier held by Hamas.

Hamas was open to the release of the soldier, Gilad Shalit, "but not without a price," Nazzal said. Hamas has previously demanded Israel free hundreds of jailed Palestinians in return for his release.

Nazaal said the discussions with Carter's advisers would focus on the "price and mechanism" for releasing Shalit.

He added that the Carter-Meshaal meeting had discussed important issues, but details were left to their aides to hammer out. Hamas's leadership would need a few days to reach a position on the main issues of Shalit, a truce, and control of crossing points linking Gaza to the outside world.

"This meeting was not a courtesy call, concrete proposals were discussed and we admire Carter for making this effort. The discussions were frank and direct," Nazzal said.


Egypt said on Friday it was making good progress trying to negotiate a tacit ceasefire, including a prisoner exchange, between Israel and Hamas.

Speaking in Washington, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said his government was speaking with both sides to get a "period of quiet," which would help Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to more easily reach a deal in U.S.-mediated Palestinian statehood talks that exclude Hamas.

Carter, 83, brokered the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt when he was president. He is on a Middle East tour to hear views on solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and earlier met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did not meet Carter during his visit to Israel this week and Washington has criticized him for his contacts with Hamas, which both the United States and Israel regard as a terrorist group.

Previous efforts by Egypt to broker a prisoner exchange deal between Hamas, whose charter calls for the Jewish state's demise, and Israel involving Shalit, captured by Palestinian fighters in a 2006 raid on Israeli territory, have foundered.

Hamas officials said they preferred to negotiate a prisoner exchange deal through a third party, not directly with Israeli officials.

In a proposal passed to Carter this week, an Israeli cabinet minister offered to meet the leadership of Hamas to ask for the release of the soldier -- a move which would contravene official Israeli government policy.

Carter met two senior Hamas officials in Cairo on Thursday after Israel refused him permission to enter the Gaza Strip, where they live. The two would now come to Damascus for talks with the Hamas leadership, Nazzal said.

Hamas, which is locked in a power struggle with Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, has offered Israel a conditional truce. The Olmert government has written this off as a ruse that would allow Hamas to rearm and regroup.

(Additional reporting by Sue Pleming in Washington)

(Writing by Keith Weir, edited by Richard Meares)

Carter meets Hamas chief despite US objections

by Ahmad Khatib 2 hours, 49 minutes ago

DAMASCUS (AFP) - Former US president Jimmy Carter on Friday asked Hamas to end its rocket fire against Israel at a controversial meeting in the Syrian capital with exiled leader Khaled Meshaal, the group said.

"Carter suggested a truce and that Hamas should stop its rockets against Israel," top Islamist leader Mohmmed Nazzal told reporters after a five-hour meeting with the former president, whose talks with the group have been strongly opposed by Israel and the White House.

"We support a truce, but Israel should support it too," he said in reference to attempts to halt the bloodshed in Gaza, where 18 Palestinians and three Israeli soldiers were killed in the latest explosion of violence on Wednesday.

Carter made no comment after the meeting but Nazzal added that advisors from his delegation and a number of Hamas leaders were to meet later tonight to discuss the fate of Corporal Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by the group and other Palestinian militants in June 2006.

"They will discuss details related to the price and mechanisms for his release, which will not happen without a price," Nazzal said.

Israeli minister Eli Yishai has said he was ready to meet Meshaal to negotiate the release of prisoners held by the Islamist movement, according to Friday's Haaretz daily.

"I am ready to meet with all necessary Hamas members," the newspaper quoted the deputy prime minister as telling Carter during the Israeli leg of his regional tour to promote Middle East peace.

In Israel, Carter met with Shalit's parents and pledged to take up with Meshaal calls for his release.

Carter earlier Friday met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

State news agency SANA later said they discussed the peace process and relations between the two countries.

The two men expressed "their support for dialogue in arriving at political solutions to problems" and considered it important to "mobilise efforts to reduce the suffering of the Palestinians and to lift the (Israeli) blockade" on the Gaza Strip.

Carter is on a nine-day Middle East tour that has already seen him visit Israel, the West Bank and Egypt, where on Thursday he met top Gaza-based Hamas leaders Mahmud Zahar and Said Siam.

That meeting took place in Cairo after Israel barred the former president from visiting the Gaza Strip, which the Islamists have ruled since seizing it in June.

The two Isalmist leaders are due in Damascus on Saturday to "brief Meshaal on their talks with Carter," according to Nazzal.

Israel has snubbed Carter, winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace prize, over his plans to talk with Hamas, which has remained blacklisted as a terror group by the European Union and the United States even after its sweeping victory in 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections.

Washington has said the former president, seen as the architect of the historic 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty, is acting in a personal capacity.

In Beirut, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch said Carter's conversations with Hamas leaders risked being "misrepresented."

"We are concerned to advance peace here. We see no intention on the part of Hamas in doing so and there is some risk that these conversations will be misrepresented by Hamas," he said.

But Carter insists he is not acting as a mediator and has been urging talks with Hamas and Syria, saying peace cannot be reached without them.

"I think it's absolutely crucial that in a final dreamed-about and prayed-for peace agreement for this region that Hamas be involved and that Syria be involved," he said in Israel on Monday.

The Hamas delegation in Cairo also held talks with Egypt's pointman on Palestinian affairs, Omar Suleiman, on Friday and vowed not to return home until negotiations on the reopening of the Gaza-Egypt border bear fruit.

"We gave clear and specific answers to the questions put by the Egyptian side. We expect an Israeli answer within a week... so that we can settle the issue of the Rafah crossing once and for all," Zahar told Egypt's official MENA news agency.

"We are going to sort out all the remaining obstacles in the coming days and will not return to the Gaza Strip until we have so that we can rid the territory of this unjust blockade," he added.

The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, the territory's only one that bypasses Israel, has remained almost continuously closed since the Hamas takeover of last summer.

Militants blew open the border earlier this year but the Hamas authorities resealed it pending an agreement on its formal reopening.

>>I love you Jimmy...Not only is this man a great builder, he is also brave...I think I'm probably one of his biggest fans...I would also like to have a woodshop in my home someday...

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