Former American President Jimmy Carter said Thursday that Hamas was interested in renewing negotiations for a prisoner swap deal in exchange for captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.
Carter and the Elders in the Mideast
"They let us know... they are very eager to proceed," Carter told reporters in East Jerusalem several days after meeting Hamas officials in Syria.
Top Hamas official Musa Abu Marzuq confirmed Saturday reports recently denied by the Hamas party that the German mediator, Gerhard Conrad, visited the coastal enclave two weeks ago in a bid to resume the frozen negotiations.
"They are very glad that the German negotiator has been back on the scene lately and that Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu has made some positive statements about a prisoner exchange," Carter said, adding that "they maintained that they are very eager to have a swap but they are demanding the release of some prisoners that are not acceptable to the Israeli negotiators."
The former president, who arrived in Israel with a delegation of former world leaders, The Elders, held meetings with Hamas officials in Syria, during which they discussed the stalled negotiations fro Shalit's release and Middle East peace talks.
Shalit was kidnapped by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in 2006 and has been held by Hamas since. Hamas has demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons in exchange for Shalit's freedom.
The negotiations have been stuck in recent months following Conrad's failure to reach a deal. The previous round of talks broke down due to Israel's rejection of Hamas's demands.
The Elders delegation includes, besides Carter, former Irish president Mary Robinson and former UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
During the Elders' visit to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, carter criticized the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and said that East Jerusalem should be the capitol of a Palestinian state.
In the past week the Elders have visited Syria, Ramallah, Gaza, Egypt and Jordan. Carter, however, did not join the Elder's visit to Gaza on Saturday.
During their visit on Syria on Tuesday, Carter called for Israel to lift completely its blockade on the Gaza Strip. Despite the U.S. and the European Union's labeling of Hamas as a terrorist organization, The Elders met with exiled Hamas politburo leader Khaled Meshal, as Carter has done during previous regional visits.
Following their talks with Assad and Meshal, The Elders said people in the region have "very low expectations" that the current U.S.-led talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which excluded Hamas, would succeed.
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