Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter paid on Tuesday a significant visit to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, aiming at convincing Hamas leaders to denounce violence and accept the existing peace agreements as well as the right of the Jewish state to exist.
"I called on Hamas leaders that I met with in Damascus and I will tell Hamas leaders in Gaza today to accept these conditions. They (Hamas) made several statements, and showed readiness to join the peace and move towards establishing just and independent Palestinian state," Carter said in Gaza.
After entering through the Israeli crossing point of Erez in northern Gaza Strip, his convoy immediately proceeded to northeast Gaza Strip to inspect damage during Israel's three-week air, sea and ground military offensives, which ended on Jan. 18.
Carter, who is the highest former U.S. diplomat to visit Gaza after the Israeli offensives, toured the enclave and held talks with Hamas' lawmakers and officials, including deposed Prime Minister Ismail Haneya.
"Hamas leaders want peace and they want to have reconciliation not only with their Fatah brothers but also eventually with Israelis to live side by side, with two nations, both sovereign nations, recognized by each other and living in peace," Carter told students at a graduation ceremony in the Gaza Strip.
Carter checked destroyed homes and buildings of Gazans, and visited a destroyed school and a hospital.
He said "I have to hold back tears when I see the deliberate destruction that has been raged against your people."
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Hamas-ruled interior ministry denied on Tuesday earlier reports saying that a bomb was dismantled as Carter's motorcade passed by in northern Gaza Strip.
In an official statement, spokesman Ihab al-Ghusein called on local Gaza reporters "not to deal with such reports plotted by the Zionist media which aimed at creating a security confusion in the region."
Earlier on Tuesday, a Hamas security source revealed that Israel closed Erez crossing point for a while after explosives were found near the Palestinian side of the crossing shortly after Carter entered the Hamas-controlled Strip.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Xinhua "the explosives were found on the route that Carter had passed when he entered Gaza this morning." Carter is due to leave Gaza on the same route later on Tuesday afternoon.
Carter called on the Palestinians to reunite, saying that he felt sad "when I hear that Palestinian brothers are killing and detaining each other in the West Bank and Gaza."
He stressed that reconstruction of Gaza, ending Palestinian people's suffering "can only be achieved through the Palestinian-Palestinian unity."
During his visit, Carter brought to Hamas rulers in Gaza two letters: one from the family of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who has been held in captivity since June 2006; the second is related to his vision on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, senior Hamas sources told Xinhua on Monday.
Yousef Rezqah, an aide to Haneya, said shortly before a meeting between Carter and senior Hamas officials that Carter carried with him "unlimited agenda that includes several issues, including the internal Palestinian situation and the conflict with Israel."
Rezqah said Carter will listen to messages from (Hamas) government which related to Israel's military aggression, the Jewish settlements and the tight Israeli blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip.