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Carter: Hamas eager to renew talks for Shalit’s release

Member of the 'Council of Elders' Delegation former U.S. President Jimmy Carter listens to Palestinian residents (not seen) during a visit to the Elders Delegation in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on October 21, 2010 in East Jerusalem. The Elders, an independent council of retired world figures, visited the neighbourhood to speak with Palestinian residents whose homes are facing demolition. (Photo : Ammar Awad - Pool/Getty Images)

October 21,2 010 (KATAKAMI / HAARETZ) — The Elders hold meetings with Hamas officials, discuss stalled negotiations for Shalit’s release and Middle East peace talks.

Former American President Jimmy Carter said Thursday that Hamas was interested in renewing negotiations for a prisoner swap deal in exchange for captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

“They let us know… they are very eager to proceed,” Carter told reporters in East Jerusalem several days after meeting Hamas officials in Syria.

Top Hamas official Musa Abu Marzuq confirmed Saturday reports recently denied by the Hamas party that the German mediator, Gerhard Conrad, visited the coastal enclave two weeks ago in a bid to resume the frozen negotiations.

“They are very glad that the German negotiator has been back on the scene lately and that Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu has made some positive statements about a prisoner exchange,” Carter said, adding that “they maintained that they are very eager to have a swap but they are demanding the release of some prisoners that are not acceptable to the Israeli negotiators.”

The former president, who arrived in Israel with a delegation of former world leaders, The Elders, held meetings with Hamas officials in Syria, during which they discussed the stalled negotiations fro Shalit’s release and Middle East peace talks.

Shalit was kidnapped by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in 2006 and has been held by Hamas since. Hamas has demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons in exchange for Shalit’s freedom.

The negotiations have been stuck in recent months following Conrad’s failure to reach a deal. The previous round of talks broke down due to Israel’s rejection of Hamas’s demands.

The Elders delegation includes, besides Carter, former Irish president Mary Robinson and former UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

During the Elders’ visit to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, carter criticized the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and said that East Jerusalem should be the capitol of a Palestinian state.

In the past week the Elders have visited Syria, Ramallah, Gaza, Egypt and Jordan. Carter, however, did not join the Elder’s visit to Gaza on Saturday.

During their visit on Syria on Tuesday, Carter called for Israel to lift completely its blockade on the Gaza Strip. Despite the U.S. and the European Union’s labeling of Hamas as a terrorist organization, The Elders met with exiled Hamas politburo leader Khaled Meshal, as Carter has done during previous regional visits.

Following their talks with Assad and Meshal, The Elders said people in the region have “very low expectations” that the current U.S.-led talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which excluded Hamas, would succeed.


US Man Imprisoned in North Korea Arrives Home

Aijalon Gomes reaches for his mother Jacqueline McCarthy after arriving at Logan International Airport in Boston, Friday, Aug. 27, 2010. Former President Jimmy Carter flew to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, this week on a private mission to secure a pardon for the 31-year-old American. (AP)

August 28, 2010

(KATAKAMI / VOA)  — Aijalon Mahli Gomes has arrived in the northeastern U.S. city of Boston, Massachusetts, where he was immediately mobbed by family members who welcomed him home after eight months in a North Korean prison.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter secured the American citizen’s release during a mission to Pyongyang.  A chartered flight carrying the two men landed in Boston early Friday afternoon.

Television footage showed Gomes hugging Mr. Carter and family members surrounding Gomes and the former president at the airport in Boston.

In a statement Friday, the Gomes’ family described his eight months in captivity as a “long, dark and difficult period,” and they thanked Carter for his efforts.  The family passed by media microphones at the airport without commenting.

In New York, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the North Korean decision to release Gomes on humanitarian grounds and urged nations to send emergency aid to North Korea, which has been suffering from devastating floods.

The U.S. State Department said earlier that it welcomed the release, and said that was the sole purpose of Mr. Carter’s private mission.  There had been widespread media speculation that Mr. Carter also would hold political talks with the North Koreans.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was reported to be visiting China during most of Mr. Carter’s stay in Pyongyang.  But official North Korean media reported the former president did meet with senior officials, including the second-in-command, Kim Yong Nam.

The reports said Kim reiterated to Mr. Carter the North’s interest in a return to six-party talks on its nuclear program and the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Gomes was detained in January after entering the isolated country from China.  He was sentenced in April to eight years of hard labor and fined $700,000 for illegally crossing the border.

U.S. concerns about Gomes increased following reports that he tried to commit suicide last month.

Gomes had been teaching English in South Korea.  His friends described him as a passionate Christian activist who was influenced by U.S. missionary Robert Park, who entered North Korea a month before Gomes.  Park was arrested and expelled from the country two months later.

Mr. Carter previously traveled to North Korea in 1994 to meet with Kim Jong Il’s father, Kim Il Sung.  The talks led to a landmark nuclear disarmament pact. 

American imprisoned in N. Korea returns to Boston

August 28, 2010

BOSTON  (KATAKAMI / AP) – An American held captive for seven months in North Korea stepped off a plane in his hometown Friday, looking thin but joyful as he hugged the former president who had helped win his release and family and friends surrounded him in a group embrace.

Aijalon Gomes was accompanied by former President Jimmy Carter, who had flown to Pyongyang to negotiate his freedom. Gomes, who had been teaching English in South Korea, was imprisoned and sentenced to eight years’ hard labor for crossing into the North from China on Jan. 25 for unknown reasons.

North Korea’s state-run news agency reported last month that Gomes had attempted suicide, leading his family to ask for his release on humanitarian grounds. North Korea said this week it would release Gomes to Carter if the former president went to get him.

Gomes hugged Carter and then his mother before his loved ones encircled him, praying and waving their hands skyward. One man gripped a small American flag, and others held a banner behind them that read: “Welcome home! Disciple of the Lord Aijalon Mahli Gomes. Salvation is ours.”

The banner also pictured a Christian cross and contained biblical references to Acts, Psalms, and Job, an Old Testament book about a man who survived great tribulation.

Gomes’ mother and family members hugged Carter and shook his hand before the group headed inside the terminal, as Gomes smiled and waved at loved ones along the way. A few minutes later, Carter reboarded the plane and left Boston.

In a statement released earlier Friday, the family thanked Carter and said it felt blessed to welcome Gomes home after what it called “a long, dark and difficult period.”

“I’m just joyful and grateful that my son is home and thank President Jimmy Carter for making sure that he was home safely,” Gomes’ mother, Jacqueline McCarthy, said as she left her home for the airport. “I thank God, I thank God, for everything everyone has done for us.”

The family also thanked the North Korean government “for caring for Aijalon during his darkest days, then agreeing to release him on humanitarian grounds.”


The statement requested privacy so Gomes could recover from the ordeal, saying that although he was returning home, “the journey towards healing really just begins today.” The family passed by media microphones at the airport without commenting.

But later outside McCarthy’s home, several of Gomes’ relatives spoke to the media and said Gomes appeared to be fine physically.

“He looks well, he looks very well,” his uncle Michael Farrow said.

His 19-year-old brother, Milton McCarthy Jr., described feeling “an overwhelming amount of joy and happiness” when he hugged Gomes.

“It was just like they said, a prayer being answered,” he said. “It was truly a blessing.”

Family members said they’d had a limited chance to speak with Gomes and added he wasn’t expected back at his mother’s home Friday, though they didn’t say where he was staying.

“He’s just grateful to be home, and he’s just thanking God for his safe return,” his cousin Ron Odom said.

In Washington, the Department of State welcomed the news of Gomes’ release, saying officials are “relieved that he will soon be safely reunited with his family,” spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

It was unclear what led Gomes to enter the repressive nation. He may have been emulating fellow Christian Robert Park, who was detained after he crossed into North Korea in December to highlight its human rights record, said Jo Sung-rae, a South Korean human rights advocate who met with Gomes. Park was expelled some 40 days later after issuing an apology carried by North Korean state media.

Gomes attended rallies in Seoul in January calling for Park’s release and was arrested in North Korea just two weeks later.

Gomes, whose full name is pronounced EYE’-jah-lahn GOHMZ’, grew up the inner-city Boston neighborhood of Mattapan, then headed to college at Bowdoin in Maine before going to South Korea to teach several years after graduating.

He was the fourth American in a year arrested for trespassing in North Korea, which fought the U.S. during the 1950-53 Korean War and does not have diplomatic relations with Washington. Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were arrested last March and released only after former President Bill Clinton made a similar trip to Pyongyang to plead for their freedom.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed Gomes’ release and commended Carter. He took the occasion to appeal to donors for emergency humanitarian aid to North Korea, which has been affected by recent flooding, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said at U.N. headquarters in New York.

Former President Carter to travel to North Korea to free American

August 23, 2010

Washington (KATAKAMI / CNN) – Former President Jimmy Carter is traveling to North Korea to free detained American Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a senior administration official and another source familiar with the trip said Monday.

Both sources described the trip as a “private humanitarian mission” to free Gomes, a 31 year-old Boston resident who was sentenced in April to eight years at a hard labor camp for illegally crossing North Korea’s border with China and for an unspecified “hostile act.”

While President Carter contacted the Obama administration about the trip, no officials will be traveling with him and he “will not be carrying any message on behalf of the United States government,” the senior official said.

North Korean state media KCNA reported Gomes attempted suicide because he felt the US had not done enough to free him.

State Department Spokesman PJ Crowley would not comment Monday about whether an envoy was being considered to free Gomes, but said ““We are engaged with the North Koreans to try to encourage them to release him on humanitarian grounds.”

“We’re anxious to get Mr. Gomes home,” Crowley said.

The senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation said “President Carter fits that role perfectly.”

“He is someone in a position to take action as a distinguished international figure,” the official said.

Carter is expected to leave Tuesday.