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Carter calls for 'reunification' of Gaza, West Bank

Former US president calls for "all combat operations" to stop in Gaza in order to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe
Jimmy Carter on a tour of East Jerusalem this week (AFP)

Former US president Jimmy Carter has condemned the use of indiscriminate violence in the current conflict between Israel and Hamas fighters in Gaza.

Carter made his comments on Tuesday in a statement released by his organisation, the Carter Centre.

“Both sides must distinguish between combatants and noncombatants, and Israel must ensure that its use of force is proportionate in accordance with international humanitarian law,” he said.”

In the statement he warned that Gaza is on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe.

“More immediately, all combat operations must stop, and Israeli troops should withdraw from Gaza.”

So far, over 640 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's latest assault on Gaza, with over 4,000 injured. At time of press, 31 Israelis - including 29 soldiers - had been killed.

He asserted that the most important factor now was for Gaza’s isolation to be ended and for recent efforts at restoring unity in the Palestinian Authority to be supported.

“The international community must use the ceasefire agreement as an opportunity to advance the reunification of Palestine if there is to be sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.

“The agreement must include implementation and international monitoring mechanisms.”

Carter's book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, criticised Israel's continued occupation of territory in the West Bank and Gaza and outlined his views on how to achieve a just peace in the region.

His use of the inflammatory “apartheid” term, often used by advocates of a one-state solution or binational state in the region, provoked criticism, with Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, accusing Carter of "engaging in anti-Semitism" although Carter emphasised his use of the term did not apply to the internationally recognised State of Israel, but solely to the situation in the occupied territories.

Current US President Barack Obama - a fellow Democrat who has been compared to Jimmy Carter as both a compliment and an insult - has repeatedly asserted that Israel "has the right to defend itself" while also condemning the mounting civilian death toll.

“We have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian and civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives,” Obama said said on Monday. “That is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends that fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.”

Carter has been seen as a longtime advocate of peace in the region.

In 1978, while President of the United States, Jimmy Carter was responsible for mediating the Camp David accords between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, which eventually led to the signing of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty in 1979, the first recognition of Israel by any Arab state.

Writing in the Washington Post during 2009's Operation Cast Lead - in which over 1400 Palestinians were killed - he advocated a similar outline for stability in Israel/Palestine.

"The hope is that when further hostilities are no longer productive, Israel, Hamas and the United States will accept another ceasefire, at which time the rockets will again stop and an adequate level of humanitarian supplies will be permitted to the surviving Palestinians, with the publicized agreement monitored by the international community," he wrote.

"The next possible step: a permanent and comprehensive peace."

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