(CNSNews.com) – Former President Jimmy Carter met with the leader of Hamas in Damascus on Sunday, the same day the Palestinian terrorist group marked its 21st anniversary and signaled its intention to end an erratically-upheld ceasefire.
It was Carter’s second meeting in the Syrian capital with Khaled Meshaal, whose group has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the United States. Carter's previous visit to Damascus, last April, drew criticism from the State Department and Israel.
Carter said then, and since, that the search for peace requires dialogue with all sides.
Carter also held talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad, who praised his peace-making efforts, according to the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).
The former president’s visit to Damascus followed one to Lebanon, where he met with a number of political leaders and parties but was rebuffed by the Shi’ite terrorist group, Hezbollah.
SANA reported that Carter was briefed by Meshaal on “the latest developments and all issues” relating to the Palestinian situation.
Meshaal, whose official title is chairman of the Hamas politburo, is based in Damascus while Hamas’ fiefdom in the Gaza Strip is headed by Ismail Haniyah.
Hamas seized control of Gaza in mid-2007, ousting the administration led by Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, whose remit consequently covers West Bank areas only.
Both before and after the Hamas takeover, terrorists have launched thousands of rockets at Israeli towns from the Strip as well as other attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians nearby, drawing retaliatory military strikes.
After an Egyptian-mediated truce went into effect in last June, rocket attacks dropped off significantly (from a high of 257 in February to just one in July, eight in August, one in September and two in October.)
But since early November, Hamas and allied groups have fired well over 100 rockets and more than 100 mortar shells across the border, according to figures provided by the Israeli foreign ministry. The upsurge prompted an Israeli embargo that has drawn international condemnation.
Before meeting with Meshaal, Carter told reporters he hoped for reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah and that peace could be achieved between the Palestinians and Israel.
On Sunday, Hamas marked the 21st anniversary of its founding with a massive rally in Gaza. Meshaal, speaking from Damascus, told Hamas’ satellite television network Al-Quds that the truce had been limited to six months and was due to expire on Friday, December 19.
When it does, he said, Hamas does not plan to renew it. However, other Hamas officials in Gaza indicated that the matter was still under consideration.
Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister and prime ministerial hopeful in elections next February, warned Sunday that attacks from Gaza would obligate Israel to respond to defend its citizens.
“If Hamas continues to foment terror from Gaza, Israel will act via the means at its disposal,” she said after a meeting with her visiting Austrian counterpart.
Israeli defense ministry envoy Amos Gilad, who helped broker the original truce, is currently visiting Cairo for discussions with the Egyptians. Israel hopes Egypt will support a truce extension.
At Hamas’ anniversary rally in Gaza, Haniyah told a crowd of an estimated 200,000 that the Bush administration had failed in its attempt to defeat Hamas.
Despite U.S. and Israeli policies, he said, “Hamas is stronger and will remain stronger because it draws its strength from Allah.”
The rally also featured a macabre presentation mocking Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, 22, who was kidnapped by Hamas more than two years ago and is still believed to be being held hostage in Gaza.
“I miss my mommy and daddy,” a Hamas member playing the role of Shalit said into a microphone, speaking in Hebrew and begging for freedom.
The Jerusalem Post in an editorial Monday called the display “repulsive” and said it should give pause to the whole world, but especially to “Hamas’ co-religionists,” given the group’s claims to represent “a humane Islam.”
“The pain deliberately caused to Shalit’s parents, more than 900 days after his abduction, would have been of little concern to Hamas,” the paper said. “As it marks its 21st birthday, Hamas pays no heed to the fact that Shalit has been denied his freedom on his 20th, 21st and 22nd birthdays.”
Last week the International Committee of the Red Cross said that despite repeated and continuing efforts, its attempts to visit Shalit and to establish contact between him and his family have been unsuccessful.
Hamas was founded in the Gaza Strip as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian arm in 1987. Sworn in its 1988 charter to Israel’s destruction, Hamas has been linked since then to terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis – and dozens of Americans.