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Will Carter's Hamas foray bear fruit?

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Carter, who was snubbed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the trip, reported that Hamas rejected his suggestion that it declare a unilateral truce with Israel and free Corporal Shalit in return for the release of jailed Hamas political leaders and Palestinian women and children prisoners. But, he said, Hamas did agree to forward a letter from Shalit to his parents and to a two-stage prisoner exchange in which the captured soldier would be transferred to Egypt in between waves of prisoner releases by Israel.

Carter also insisted that Hamas would accept a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an accord negotiated by the Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas if it were put to a referendum or a Palestinian legislature is elected with a majority in support.

While Hamas leaders have said they support a long-term truce with Israel along the 1967 borders of the West Bank and Gaza, they have consistently rejected a peace treaty.

"This is enormous," says Gershon Baskin, copresident of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information. "It's the first indication that Hamas is turning its back on its own covenant of never recognizing Israel."

But Magnus Ranstorp, the author of several books on Hamas, is doubtful that the Islamists have made the ideological shift.

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