Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter hugged a leading member of the militant Palestinian political group Hamas on Tuesday, according to participants in a meeting that infuriated Israeli officials already upset by Carter's freelance Mideast peace mission.
Carter also laid a wreath at the grave of Yasser Arafat, whom the Bush administration and many Israelis blame for the breakdown of peace talks seven years ago and the violence that followed.
At a reception in the West Bank town of Ramallah organized by Carter's office, the former president hugged Nasser Shaer, a senior Hamas politician, participants in the function said.
"He gave me a hug. We hugged each other, and it was a warm reception," Shaer told The Associated Press. "Carter asked what he can do to achieve peace between the Palestinians and Israel … and I told him the possibility for peace is high."
Carter's office refused to comment, saying he does not discuss closed meetings.
Shaer, who served as deputy prime minister and education minister in the Hamas-led Palestinian government that unraveled last year, is considered a leading member of the Islamic militant group's pragmatic wing. After a stint in an Israeli prison last year, he is now a professor at a West Bank university, teaching comparative religion.
Israel says hug "dignifies" Hamas
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Carter's meeting with Hamas "dignified" a group committed to Israel's destruction. "One cannot but wonder how this attitude is supposed to promote peace and understanding," he said.
Israel and the West Bank are the first stops on a visit that also is to include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Syria — where the virulently anti-Israel Hamas movement is headquartered. Shunned by his Israeli hosts and criticized by the White House for his willingness to meet with Hamas, Carter has urged that both stop isolating the militant group.
The U.S. has also expressed displeasure at Carter's overtures to Hamas, an Islamic group responsible for the deaths of some 250 Israelis in suicide bombings and labelled a terrorist organization by both countries.
Carter is to meet Khaled Mashaal, the group's exiled leader, in Damascus, Syria, on Friday.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is not meeting with Carter during his visit, and the only Israeli leader to host him, President Shimon Peres, scolded Carter for his planned meeting with Mashaal.
And also, talk about expressing a screwed up mentality on Israel's side of things. Clearly they don't want any chance of peace, even if it could be started with something as simple as a friggin hug, they decide to get all **** about it and freak out.
It's gotta stop one way or another and one side has to step up to the plate and be the better half. If Carter can possibly do something over there to make things better, then what's the big deal?