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Council of Elders seeks meeting with Meshaal

Palestinian sources in Damascus have reported that international contact with the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) has widened recently and that the movement is pressing for the issue of the siege on Gaza to be at the forefront of discussions. Quds Press reported that the coordinators of the Council of Elders, which includes former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, are seeking a meeting with the Head of Hamas' Political Bureau Mr Khaled Meshaal in Damascus during a tour of the Middle East during the second half of this month.

Meshaal had met with Carter in April 2008, when the latter sought to agree on a "joint paper" between the two sides on the subject of a Palestinian state, the truce, prisoner exchange and Palestinian national reconciliation. The draft paper included a proposal that the movement accepts the decision of the Palestinian people through a referendum carried out under international monitoring should the Palestinian Authority succeed in reaching an agreement with Israel in the final status negotiations. On their part, leaders of the movement stressed the right of their people to establish a sovereign Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.

The delegation of "Elders", in addition to Carter, would include former Algerian foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi and two other members. Former South African president Nelson Mandela and Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan are not expected to be with the delegation. The Council of Elders was founded in 2007 to encourage dialogue between states and influential figures to resolve conflicts. While in Damascus the "Elders" are expected to hold meetings with senior Syrian Government officials.

The planned meeting with Meshaal comes amid widening international contacts with his movement. A few weeks ago Meshaal received a Chinese delegation attended by diplomats from the Chinese embassy in Damascus. Sources in Damascus said "it was clear that Beijing is considering how to open a political dialogue with Hamas." Meshaal had previously met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Damascus last May and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu in July.

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