Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Just days before he is supposed to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Damascus, Syria, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter criticized Palestinian rocket attacks on civilians in southern Israel.
"I think it's a despicable crime for any deliberate effort to be made to kill innocent civilians, and my hope is there will be a cease-fire soon," Carter said during a visit Monday to the rocket-ravaged town of Sderot. (One Kassam rocket slammed into an open area near Sderot on Monday, the army said.)
Although some senior Israeli officials have snubbed Carter -- refusing to meet with him -- a Foreign Ministry representative in Sderot, Jonathan Peled, said it was important for Carter to visit Sderot.
"The fact that Carter came to Sderot is basically important - for him to see the terrible situation in Sderot and the conditions [under which the residents are living]," Peled told Cybercast News Service.
Carter was shown a house that was hit by a Kassam rocket, the remains of rockets and he also visited an overlook that shows just how close the Gaza Strip is to Israel, said Peled.
Carter also received a "souvenir" - the tail of a Kassam rocket, with an inscription from Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal.
"To President Carter: A momento of the thousands of Kassam rockets that were shot at Sderot and the region and caused the death of many innocent civilians. With hope for peace and tranquility in the near future," read the inscription, written in Hebrew.
Moyal was one of the few Israeli officials to meet with Carter on his trip here. He said he does not believe that Carter's upcoming meeting with Mashaal will bring "calm and peace" nor advance Israel's interests.
But he said he met with Carter to give him Israel's side of the story.
Noam Bedein, the director of the Sderot Media Center and a Sderot resident, said some residents thought it was important for Carter to visit the city to see the situation from the Israeli perspective.
But most residents were "very upset" that he is going to meet the leader of a terrorist organization, Bedein told Cybercast News Service.
"[The rockets aim to] "kill and traumatize as many civilians as possible," Bedein said. Hamas' purpose is to wipe Israel off the map, he said.
Carter has been snubbed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak as well as opposition Likud Party leader Binyamin Netanyahu.
While they blamed scheduling difficulties, those officials admitted last week that Israel was "outraged" that Carter plans to meet with Mashaal.
Israeli President Shimon Peres, who was the architect of the Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the Palestinians in the early 1990s and also is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, met with Carter on Sunday evening. He told the former president that it would be a "severe mistake" for him to meet Mashaal, press reports said
Former Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner said the slight appeared to be unprecedented. "I cannot remember when a former President came to Israel and people were not willing to meet with him," Pazner told Cybercast News Service.
Pazner said Israeli leaders rebuffed Carter out of "dismay" that the former president would meet with the head of a terrorist organization in Damascus.
Carter brushed off criticism and said he was comfortable with his decision.
"I'm disappointed, but not distressed," Carter said in an exclusive interview with the Israeli daily Ha'aretz.
Carter said that the "most important single foreign policy goal" of his life is to "bring peace to Israel, and peace and justice to Israel's neighbors" and he had done everything he could to do that. Israel's security was "paramount," he said.
"When I go to a dictatorship, I only have to talk to one person and that's the dictator, because he speaks for all the people. But in a democracy like Israel, there is a wide range of opinions and that counterbalances the disappointment that I have in not meeting with the people shaping Israeli power now in the government," he said.
Many Israelis view Carter skeptically because of his recent book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" which compared Israel's position in the Palestinian areas with South Africa's apartheid system.
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