Rockets on southern Israel "despicable crime", Jimmy Carter says

Israel Materials 14 April 2008 16:54 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - The launching of missiles from the Gaza Strip on towns and villages in southern Israel was a "despicable crime," former US President Jimmy Carter said Monday, while on a tour of the rocket-hit town of Sderot, adjacent to the salient.

He said he would try and arrange a ceasefire between Israel and the militants groups in the Gaza Strip.

Previous attempts at arranging a truce have floundered, in part because of the militant groups' insistence that it include the West Bank, where Israel conducts almost nightly arrest raids, and in part because of Israel's fears that the militant organizations will use any ceasefire to rearm and reorganize.

Carter arrived in Israel on Sunday, to a frosty reception from the country's leaders who are angered by his intention to meet with exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Damascus, Syria.

Israel and the United States boycott Hamas because of that organization's refusal to recognise the Jewish state's right to exist. Israel also says Hamas, which administers the Gaza Strip, encourages the rocket fire, or at best does nothing to stop it.

Although Carter, who brokered Israel's first peace treaty with an Arab state, Egypt, in 1979, met shortly after arrival with President Shimon Peres, there were no plans for him to meet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni or Defence Minister Ehud Barak, the country's top-three decision makers.

On Tuesday the 83-year-old Nobel Peace Laureate is scheduled to have meeting in Ramallah with Palestinian leaders. His Middle East swing takes him also to Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.