IMAGE: CARTER LOOKS AT FIRED ROCKET SHELLS
Sebastian Scheiner  /  AP
Former U.S. President Carter, right, is briefed Monday about homemade rockets that were fired at the southern Israeli city of Sderot.
msnbc.com news services
updated 4/14/2008 1:22:00 PM ET 2008-04-14T17:22:00

Israel’s secret service has declined to assist U.S. agents guarding former U.S. President Jimmy Carter during a visit in which Israeli leaders have shunned him, U.S. sources told Reuters on Monday.

Meantime, the ex-president toured a rocket-battered Israeli town, saying he deplored Palestinian militant attacks on Israel.

Carter angered the Israeli government with plans to meet Hamas’ top leader, Khaled Mashaal, in Syria, and for describing Israeli policy in the occupied Palestinian territories as “a system of apartheid” in a 2006 book.

Speaking at an event organized by an Israeli financial newspaper, Carter said Monday that he wanted to become a “communicator” between Hamas and the U.S.

“I hope then the Israeli government will deign to meet with me — they have so far refused,” he said.

U.S. 'counseled against' meeting
State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters that the U.S. has “made clear our views that we did not think now is the moment for him or anyone to be talking with Hamas.”

Casey said any meeting with Hamas officials is “something we’ve counseled against. But he is a private citizen, and it certainly is his decision.”

The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who brokered Israel’s first peace treaty with an Arab neighbor, Egypt, signed in 1979, met Israel’s largely ceremonial president, Shimon Peres, on Sunday but was shunned by the political leadership, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Israel has also rejected Carter’s request to meet jailed Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouthi, who is seen as a possible successor to President Mahmoud Abbas, a spokesman for Carter said.

Barghouthi was convicted in 2004 of murder by an Israeli court over the killing of four Israelis and a Greek Orthodox monk in attacks by Palestinian militants. He is serving five life sentences.

American sources close to the matter said the Shin Bet security service, which helps protect visiting dignitaries and is overseen by Olmert’s office, declined to meet the head of Carter’s Secret Service security detail or provide his team with assistance as is customary during such visits.

“They’re not getting support from local security,” an American source said.

Another source described the snub as an “unprecedented” breach between the Israeli Shin Bet and the U.S. Secret Service, which protects all current and former U.S. presidents, as well as Israeli leaders when they visit the United States.

Carter tours town hit by rocket fire
Meantime, Carter met with police officials and with the mayor of Sderot, a southern town a mile from the Gaza Strip border. He was shown a house badly damaged by a rocket strike, and rusting piles of projectiles that had hit the town.

Video: Blast hits Palestinian car “I think it’s a despicable crime for any deliberate effort to be made to kill innocent civilians, and my hope is there will be a cease-fire soon,” Carter told reporters.

Sderot mayor Eli Moyal said he met with Carter to present Israel’s side, even though he said he was “upset” about Carter’s scheduled meeting with the Hamas leader.

“I don’t think he should meet with killers,” Moyal said.

In an interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz published Monday, Carter said he intended to use the Mashaal meeting to press for the return of three Israeli soldiers captured by Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. He said he would also try to get Hamas to accept a pan-Arab plan for peace with Israel.

“The most important single foreign policy goal in my life has been to bring peace to Israel, and peace and justice to Israel’s neighbors. I have done everything I could in office and since I left office to do that,” the paper quoted Carter as saying.

Israel and the United States have sought to isolate Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in June from more secular Fatah forces loyal to Abbas. Abbas holds sway in the occupied West Bank and has launched U.S.-backed peace talks with Olmert.

Hamas leaders have offered a long-term truce with Israel in return for a viable Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but the group’s 1988 founding charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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