Page last updated at 14:28 GMT, Saturday, 19 April 2008 15:28 UK

Carter wraps up visit to Damascus

By Jim Muir
BBC News, Damascus

Former US President Jimmy Carter in Damascus
Jimmy Carter met the Syrian president before his talks with Hamas

Former US President Jimmy Carter has ended a controversial visit to the Syrian capital Damascus.

During the visit, he held intensive talks with Khaled Meshaal, leader of militant Palestinian movement Hamas.

The talks have been strongly criticised by the current US administration and by Israel, both of which regard Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

They focused on two main issues - a possible Israeli-Palestinian prisoner exchange, and some kind of truce.

Hamas says it is open to both ideas, but of course there would have to be something in return.

On the prisoner exchange - which would include the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas in a raid on Israel nearly two years ago - it has demanded the release of several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel.

Under a truce, Hamas would stop firing rockets into Israel - and the Israelis would halt attacks on Gaza.

Mr Carter apparently came away without any conclusive answers, but a process of discussion is now under way.

Senior Hamas figures from Gaza are to hold talks with the leadership in Damascus and a decision is then expected to emerge.

As for Mr Carter, he is withholding any comment on the results of his initiative until he gives a news conference in Jerusalem on Monday.

If nothing else, he hopes he may at least have set a precedent by breaking the taboo about speaking to Hamas - something he says is necessary if there's to be peace.

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