Carter has repeatedly stressed he has no political
mandate to secure a peace deal [AFP]
When he announced his plans to meet Hamas leaders, Jimmy Carter, the former US president, was criticised by Israel and the US administration.

His subsequent call on Monday for Hamas to be included in peace negotiations prompted a swift response from the US secretary of state.

Condoleezza Rice said Hamas should prove it was ready for peace by renouncing violence and ending the shelling of villages in southern Israel.

"It seems to me that what Hamas needs to do is pretty clear. Renounce violence would be a good step towards showing you actually want peace," Rice told reporters in Manama, Bahrain's capital, where she was meeting her counterparts from the Gulf countries, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.

"Hamas can do several things," she said.

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"They can release the Israeli Corporal [Gilad] Shalit [captured in 2006]. They can stop rocketing Israeli citizens in Sderot and Ashkelon. They can stop holding hostage the people of Gaza with their own coup d'etat against the legitimate government structures of the Palestinian Authority.

"They can accept the long-standing obligations of the Palestinian leaders to a number of steps including those that even Yasser Arafat [the late Palestinian leader] undertook," she said.

Carter has repeatedly said he has no political mandate to secure a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

'What Israelis want'

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Imad Fawzi Shuebi, president of the Strategic Studies Centre, a private think-tank in Damascus, said Carter's visit to meet Hamas leaders in Syria was to "see if there is a serious opportunity" for peace.

He called for the US to become "involved" in negotiations with Hamas and with Syria.

Israel's conditions for peace with Hamas


- For Hamas to accept the right of Israel to exist

- For Hamas to renounce violence

- To accept the previous agreements signed between the Israelis and the Palestinians, such as the Oslo Accords

"I can say without doubt that the visit of Mr Carter is not for himself - he is a president and he knows that he cannot do anything without returning back to his administration," he said.

Brigadier-General Shlomo Bron, a researcher at the Institute of National Security in Tel Aviv, told Al Jazeera that he hoped the Israeli government would use the opportunity to "start a certain level of engagement with Hamas".

"I believe that it is really what the majority of Israelis want. I think we can learn from different public opinion surveys that say that Israelis are willing to have negotiations with a Palestinian national unity government that will include Hamas," he said.

"If Hamas is changing, then we can engage it. I think there are a number of reasons [for the change], one is the military pressure, but it is also the wish of Hamas to be capable to govern the Gaza Strip if not all of the Palestinian Authority after they won the elections."

But he said for any negotiations to take place there needed to be a public statement from Hamas, rather than a message conveyed through Carter.

"There were indications from Hamas that they were willing to have a more flexible position. But I think that it will not be sufficient for the government of Israel as long as Hamas leaders are not saying it publicly."

In his speech in Jerusalem, Carter said Hamas would accept a deal negotiated by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, as long as the Palestinian people approved it in a referendum.

But Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying Carter's comments "do not mean that Hamas is going to accept the result of the referendum".

So far, Hamas itself has remained quiet but the office of Ismail Haniya, who leads Hamas in Gaza, issued a press release stressing that Carter was not a political mediator.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies