Jimmy Carter is shown the rockets that were fired on the southern Israeli town of Sderot by Palestinian militants. Photographer: Pavel Wolberg/EPA <br>
The former US president and Nobel peace prize winner Jimmy Carter will today meet top Hamas officials in Cairo, further driving a wedge between him and the Israeli leadership.
Hamas said Mahmoud al-Zahar and Saeed Seyam would meet Carter to discuss their demand that Israel open Gaza's crossings — which are controlled by the Jewish state — and stop military raids in the territory.
A Hamas official, Ayman Taha, told Reuters: "Mr Carter asked for the meeting. He wanted to hear the Hamas vision regarding the situation, and we are interested in clarifying our position and emphasising the rights of our people."
The meetings are part of a week-long tour of the Middle East that will culminate in a meeting with a Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, in Damascus on Friday.
Carter, who brokered a peace deal between Israel and Egypt in 1979, said he simply wanted to be a communicator between the two sides.
"Since Syria and Hamas will have to be involved in a final peace agreement, they ought to be involved in the discussions leading up to … peace," he said.
"I'm just trying to understand different opinions and communicate … between people who won't communicate with each other," he said, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Hamas forcibly took control of Gaza from the Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in June. It refuses to recognise Israel, renounce violence or participate in existing peace agreements. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by the United States and Israel, which refuse to deal with it. Instead they support Abbas's leadership in peace negotiations.
Carter met a senior Hamas politician, Nasser al-Shaer, who has also served as deputy prime minister of the Palestinian National Authority, when he visited the West Bank earlier this week.
Al-Shaer, considered a pragmatist in his party, said he and Carter, who met in Ramallah, discussed efforts to arrange an unofficial truce between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip.
According to Reuters, Carter had wanted to visit the Gaza Strip, but his requests were rejected by Israel.
The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has not met Carter during his visit. Earlier this week Carter visited Sderot, a southern Israeli town which has been heavily shelled by Palestinian militants. The Israeli security force, Shin Bet, which normally provides supplementary security for visiting dignitaries, is not assisting the US secret service during the visit.