Damascus, April 19, IRNA - Former US President Jimmy Carter met top Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and the group's deputy chief at their office in Damascus.
Carter's meeting with Meshaal was the first public contact between a prominent American figure and Hamas officials since Rev. Jesse Jackson met with Meshaal in Syria in 2006.
It followed two other meetings between the former American president and the popular Palestinian group in the region this week.
Carter's convoy arrived at Meshaal's office for the meeting under tight security and reporters were prevented from getting near the site. The meeting was closed to media.
Carter, who brokered the 1978 Israeli-Egyptian peace and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, defended what he called his personal peace mission, saying Hamas must be engaged in order to achieve Israeli- Palestinian peace.
Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections by a landslide, it was never given the space to govern by Israel.
National Liberation Movement
Hamas officials have said the meetings with Carter have accorded the group legitimacy. Mushir Al-Masri, one of the group's leaders in Gaza, said the meetings with Carter were proof that Hamas was not a terrorist group, but a national liberation movement.
Countries and groups are beginning to understand that Hamas is a power to reckon with and the region will not have calm or stability without engaging the group, he said.
"It confirms the failure of the US and European policies of ignoring Hamas," he said.
"It confirms that all the countries that assume Hamas is a terrorist group should reconsider."
Muhammad Nazzal, a top figure in the group's political bureau, endorsed Al-Masri's comments.
"Political isolation of Hamas by the American administration has begun to crumble," he told reporters after the Carter-Meshaal meeting.
Carter earlier met Syrian President Bashar Assad. Syrian news agency SANA 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 "mobilize efforts to reduce the suffering of the Palestinians and to lift the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip."
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 Tel Aviv.
Carter in Cairo on Thursday described Israel's siege of the Gaza Strip as a crime and an atrocity. He said Palestinians in Gaza were being "starved to death," receiving fewer calories a day than people in the poorest parts of Africa.
"It's an atrocity that is being perpetrated as punishment on the people in Gaza," he said.
"It's a crime. I think it is an abomination that this continues to go on."
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