Carter arrives in Damascus for talks with Syrian president, Hamas leader

Former US President Jimmy Carter arrived Friday in Syria where he is due to meet the exiled leader of Hamas a day after he had asked senior officials from the militant Palestinian group he met in Egypt to stop rocket attacks into Israel. Carter is scheduled to meet Friday with Syrian President Bashar Assad before he sees Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas leader. He also plans to meet with Syrian businessmen. Carter's meetings with Hamas officials in Egypt and Palestinian territories have sparked criticism in both Israel and the United States, which consider Hamas a terrorist organization. But Carter has defended his controversial meetings with Hamas officials, saying it was necessary to talk to all parties to achieve peace in the Middle East. Carter arrived at Damascus airport on a small private plane from Cairo, Egypt. Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas' Syria-based political bureau, told The Associated Press that calming the situation between Hamas and Israel as well as the fate of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit would be among topics to be discussed by Carter and Mashaal.