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Sources: Hamas sends reps to meet with Carter

  • Story Highlights
  • Hamas sends senior representatives to meet with former U.S. president
  • Meeting between Hamas, Carter would be in Cairo, Egypt
  • Carter says he is in Middle East to facilitate communication
  • Former president has been criticized for his plans to meet with Hamas
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(CNN) -- Two senior Hamas leaders based in Gaza arrived in the Egyptian capital on Wednesday in hopes of meeting with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Hamas political sources told CNN.

A Palestinian honor guard salutes as Jimmy Carter places a wreath at Yasser Arafat's grave Tuesday.

Carter's delegation said no meeting has been confirmed, but talks with Hamas officials are "currently under discussion."

The Hamas sources said Mahmoud Zahar and Saeed Seyam left Gaza early Wednesday for Cairo to meet with Carter, who is currently in Israel and will be leaving for Egypt later in the day.

The 83-year-old former president said he has been denied permission to go into Gaza, although he added, "I would like to."

Carter is on the third day of a nine-day "study mission" to the Middle East, as part of his "ongoing effort to support peace, democracy, and human rights in the region," according to the Carter Center Web site.

During a visit to the West Bank on Tuesday, Carter placed a wreath at the Ramallah grave of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. He also said he hoped to meet with exiled Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal when he visits Damascus, Syria, in the coming days.

"I'm going to try everything I can to get him (Meshaal) to agree to peaceful resolution of differences both with the Israelis through Gaza and also with Fatah," Carter said.

Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, is a rival to Hamas.

Carter stressed that he is "not a negotiator."

"I'm just trying to understand different opinions and communicate, provide communications between people that won't communicate with each other, so I think if he does have anything constructive to say, he or the president of Syria, Bashar Assad, then I would bring that to other people."

Carter has made waves both in Israel and the United States with his stated desire to meet with Meshaal. Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she found it "hard to understand what is going to be gained by having discussions with Hamas about peace when Hamas is in fact the impediment to peace."

Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, turned down Carter's requests for meetings this week.

Carter, the man who helped broker the historic peace agreement between Egypt and Israel in the late 1970s, has angered many in Israel with a recent book in which he compared Israeli policies towards the Palestinians to those practiced under the apartheid South African governments.

Carter shrugged off the criticism from Rice, noting that he's "been meeting with Hamas leaders for years."

"It's very important that at least someone meet with Hamas leaders to express their views, to ascertain what flexibilities they have, to try to induce them to stop all attacks against innocent civilians in Israel, and to cooperate with Fatah as a group that unites the Palestinians -- maybe to get them to agree to a cease-fire," he said in an interview on ABC's "This Week."

Appearing on the same program, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said a meeting between Carter and Hamas leaders would send a mixed message to the group, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel.

"We think it is very important for the international community, for everyone, to be sending a very clear message to Hamas about what they need to do if they want to move from terror into the political process," Hadley said.

"It really undermines President (Mahmoud) Abbas and the government of Prime Minister (Salam) Fayyad at a very critical time."

Carter denied that the State Department advised him against any plans to meet with Meshaal in Syria. He noted that his Syria itinerary is still unconfirmed but added: "It's likely that I will be meeting with the Hamas leaders" while in Damascus.

Last week, a Hamas official told CNN that Carter plans to meet with Meshaal in Syria's capital, where he lives in exile to avoid being arrested or killed by the Israelis.

During his trip, Carter said he "will be meeting with the Israelis, we'll be meeting with Fatah ... the Syrians, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Saudi Arabians and with the whole gamut of people who might have to play a crucial rule in any future peace agreement that involves the Middle East." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Kevin Flower contributed to this report.

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