Hamas leaders, Carter to discuss siege, Schalit

Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar expected to brief former US president on Palestinian suffering as a result of Gaza blockade.

carter ramallah 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
carter ramallah 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas's two top leaders, Mahmoud Zahar and Said Siam, traveled to Cairo Wednesday for talks with former US president Jimmy Carter and Egyptian officials on the latest developments in the Gaza Strip. Hamas officials said the two had been invited to Cairo at the request of Carter, who is currently on a tour of the Middle East. Carter is scheduled to meet later this week in Damascus with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. On Tuesday, Carter met in Ramallah with Nasser Eddin Shaer, a prominent Hamas figure who previously served as deputy prime minister in the Hamas government. Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha said Zahar and Siam would brief Carter during their meeting in Cairo on the "suffering of the Palestinians as a result of the Israeli-imposed siege of the Gaza Strip." He said the two would also reiterate Hamas's readiness to reach a simultaneous and comprehensive truce with Israel. Zahar and Siam are also scheduled to meet with Egyptian intelligence chief Gen. Omar Suleiman for talks on ways of reaching a temporary truce with Israel and lifting the blockade. The visit comes amid increased tensions between Hamas and Egypt. Earlier this week, the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram claimed that Hamas was preparing to breach the border again with Egypt. The paper also said Hamas had ordered its men to open fire at Egyptian border guards - allegations that Hamas has strongly denied. Sources close to Hamas said the talks would focus on Egypt's efforts to end the case of kidnapped IDF solider Cpl. Gilad Schalit. "Hamas wants the release of Schalit to be part of a bigger deal that would end the siege and allow the Palestinians to travel freely," the sources said. "Schalit's release should be linked not only to the release of Palestinian prisoners, but to a hudna [temporary truce] and the reopening of the Rafah border crossing." However, the sources told The Jerusalem Post that they were unaware of any progress in the Schalit case. "As far as I know, there's nothing new," said one source. "The ball remains in Israel's court, and we are still waiting for an answer to our demands." Hamas is demanding the release of some 400 Palestinian prisoners belonging to various factions, including the rival Fatah party. Most of the prisoners who appear on Hamas's list are serving either life terms or lengthy sentences for their role in killing Israeli citizens. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh expressed hope that the visit of Zahar and Siam to Cairo would lead to an agreement on lifting the blockade and reopening the Rafah border crossing. He also invited Carter to visit the Gaza Strip. Haniyeh said Hamas was prepared to resume talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction to end their differences. "We are prepared to meet with Fatah under the auspices of the Egyptian government," he added. "We seek dialogue and accord and reject schism. That's why we are interested in ending our dispute."