Carter in Syria: Israel must fully lift Gaza blockade
Former U.S. President meets with Syrian President Assad and Hamas politburo chief Meshal in Damascus.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, during a visit to Damascus on Tuesday, called for Israel to lift completely its blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Carter made the remarks in the forum of a delegation known as The Elders, who met with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hamas leaders in Syria.
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.
Carter, who has visited the Gaza Strip several times in recent years, did not accompany the rest of the delegation on their trip there Saturday.
Despite his absence from Gaza, Carter renewed calls for Israel to lift its blockade of the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip. Israel imposed the blockade in 2007 after Hamas wrestled control over the territory in a violent coup.
"The blockade is one of the most serious human rights violations on Earth and it must be lifted fully," said Carter from Syria.
Besides Carter, the Elders delegation includes former Irish president Mary Robinson and former UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. While in Gaza, the group described Israel's blockade as an "illegal collective punishment" and "an impediment to peace."
The Elders, who were in Cairo earlier this week, are next scheduled to hold talks with leaders and civil society groups in Jordan, Israel and the West Bank.
On the same day that The Elders called on Palestinian political factions to unite, the West Bank-based Fatah cancelled a reconciliation meeting with Hamas that was scheduled to take place this week in Syria.
According to Hamas official Azzam Ahmad, Fatah did not want to hold the meeting in Syria and formally requested "to change the venue of the meeting from Damascus to any other Arab country," without specifying a particular state.
Sources close to Hamas told the German news agency DPA that the decision to cancel talks in Damascus was a result of a dispute between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Assad in Libya earlier this month.
The two had met there as part of a larger Arab League meeting to discuss diplomatic alternatives to Israel's renewed settlement construction in the West Bank.