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Mon, Apr 21st - 11:40AM

Hamas ready to talk Peace

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter said Monday that Hamas – the Islamic militant group that has called for the destruction of Israel – is prepared to accept the right of the Jewish state to "live as a neighbour next door in peace."

Carter relayed the message in a speech in Jerusalem after meeting last week with top Hamas leaders in Syria. It capped a nine-day visit to the Middle East aimed at breaking the deadlock between Israel and Hamas militants who rule the Gaza Strip.

Hamas leaders "said that they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders" and they would "accept the right of Israel to live as a neighbour next door in peace," Carter said.

The borders he referred to were the frontiers that existed before Israel captured large swaths of Arab lands in the 1967 Mideast War – including the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza.

In the past, Hamas officials have said they would establish a ``peace in stages" if Israel were to withdraw to the borders it held before 1967. But it has been evasive about how it sees the final borders of a Palestinian state and has not abandoned its official call for Israel's destruction.

Israel, which evacuated Gaza in 2005, has accepted the idea of a Palestinian state there and in the West Bank. But it has resisted Palestinian demands that it return to its 1967 frontiers.

Carter urged Israel to engage in direct negotiations with Hamas, saying failure to do so was hampering peace efforts.

"We do not believe that peace is likely and certainly that peace is not sustainable unless a way is found to bring Hamas into the discussions in some way," he said. "The present strategy of excluding Hamas and excluding Syria is just not working."

Israel considers Hamas to be a terrorist group and has shunned Carter because of his meetings with Hamas' supreme chief, Khaled Mashaal, and other Hamas figures. Syria harbours Hamas' exiled leadership in its capital, Damascus, and supports the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas who warred with Israel in the summer of 2006.

Carter said Hamas promised it wouldn't undermine Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' efforts to reach a peace deal with Israel, as long as the Palestinian people approved it in a referendum. In such a scenario, he said Hamas would not oppose a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri in Gaza said Hamas' readiness to put a peace deal to a referendum "does not mean that Hamas is going to accept the result of the referendum."

Such a referendum, he said, would have to be voted on by Palestinians living all over the world. They number about 9.3 million, including some four million living in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.

The only senior Israeli official to meet with Carter was President Shimon Peres. During their meeting, Peres scolded Carter for meeting with the Islamic militant group.

Israel says Carter's talks embolden Palestinian extremists and hurt Palestinian moderates as they try to make peace with the Jewish state. Abbas, who rules only the West Bank, is in a bitter rivalry with Hamas.

"The problem is not that I met with Hamas in Syria," Carter said Monday. "The problem is that Israel and the United States refuse to meet with someone who must be involved."

Carter said Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking has "regressed" since a U.S.-hosted conference in Annapolis, Md., in November. He faulted Israel for continuing to build on disputed land the Palestinians want for a future state and for its network of roadblocks that severely hamper both Israelis and Palestinians travelling in the West Bank. "The prison around Gaza has been tightened," he said, referring to Israel's blockade of the territory since the Hamas takeover.

Now that Carter has managed to bridge the gap, will Israel join the peace talks?

In other news, oil prices spiked last night to a record US$117.40 a barrel after a Japanese oil tanker was hit by a rocket near Yemen and militants in Nigeria claimed two attacks on pipelines.

Check out the History of Oil Prices at Hundred Dollar Oil.


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