Hamas said it foiled an attempt by Palestinian terrorists to assassinate former US president Jimmy Carter during his visit to the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, Palestinian sources told news agencies.
Israeli security sources said that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) had learned of plans to target Carter and had passed on the information to the former president's security detail in "real time."
According to Palestinian sources, terrorists linked with al Qaida hid a number of improved explosive devices along a road that Carter's convoy was scheduled to travel on inside Gaza. Hamas forces reportedly uncovered the IEDs and destroyed them.
Ismail Shahwan, spokesman for the Hamas Ministry of the Interior, denied that an Al-Qaeda-linked group had planned to assassinate Carter.
Shawan said no explosives were discovered near the Erez border crossing. He said that the visit went according to the plan.
Earlier, Carter had been quoted as saying he was holding back tears when surveying the "deliberate destruction" in Gaza following Israel's Operation Cast Lead earlier this year, Israel Radio reported.
Carter said that it was distressing to see the devastation in Gaza but also to see Kassams falling on Sderot.
The way to stop this is through dialogue and peace, Carter told reporters.
Carter met with Hamas leaders including Ismail Haniyeh. Prior to the meeting, he said he would try to persuade them to accept the international community's conditions for ending its boycott of the group. Carter added that after his talks in Gaza, he will meet with officials in the Obama administration.
Carter moved onto Tel Aviv to meet with the parents of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit. He is expected to deliver a letter by them to Hamas.
On Tuesday morning, top Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said his movement would consider giving Schalit a letter delivered by Carter.
Zahar told Israel Radio on Tuesday that if Israel wanted to end the Schalit saga, it should free all the prisoners Hamas was demanding.
Zahar said that Egypt was yet to invite the group to resume indirect talks over securing Schalit's release, adding that the previous negotiations were halted due to Israel's insistence on not freeing prisoners from east Jerusalem and the Arab-Israeli sector.
He claimed Israel was not interested in reaching a prisoner swap deal, but rather wanted to get information on Schalit's whereabouts in order to try and free him in a military operation.
Zahar criticized Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's policy speech delivered Sunday, saying that he set impossible conditions for the Palestinians - to give up on the right of return and Jerusalem.
Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.