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Jimmy Carter plans to meet a fuel-short Hamas

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"Maybe if he brings back a clear message from [Mr. Mehsal] it will change the atmosphere, and public opinion might change," says Akiva Eldar, a diplomatic commentator for the Haaretz newspaper. "But this government and the US administration aren't inclined to change their attitude. He is going to try to communicate with the Israeli public over their heads, which can be effective."

Mr. Carter will spend most of the week in Israel and the West Bank before moving on to Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, where Mehsal has his headquarters. In addition to meetings with President Shimon Peres and Israeli Trade Minister Eli Yishai, he will also meet with the parents of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who has been held in Gaza by Hamas for nearly two years.

The former president then returns to Israel to debrief his interlocutors before leaving the region.

Israeli officials have said the visit has stirred "outrage" while the US State Department has publicly frowned on Carter's freelance diplomacy. The former president is undermining their policy of boycotting Hamas for its support of terrorism and its opposition to recognizing Israel.

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