DUBLIN Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said on Tuesday Washington's support for the Palestinian Fatah group and the blocking of aid to Gaza were part of a mistaken policy aimed at dividing Palestinians.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah dismissed Hamas from the government last week and formed a new cabinet in the occupied West Bank after gunmen from the Islamist group took over the Gaza Strip.
In a bid to shore up Abbas, the United States and the European Union pledged on Monday to lift a 15-month old embargo on the Palestinians imposed after Hamas won elections and rejected their calls to recognize Israel and renounce violence.
Carter, on a visit to Dublin, said the United States and Israel had done "everything they could to prevent accommodation between Hamas and Fatah".
"Lately, the United States has been giving military aid to Fatah in order to conquer Hamas in Gaza," Carter told reporters after addressing a human rights forum in Dublin.
"Fatah could not prevail because of the fervent commitment of some of the Hamas fighters and because of their discipline," he added.
Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas has said he still considers a 3-month-old unity coalition, in which he is prime minister, as the legitimate Palestinian government and accuses Abbas of participating in a U.S.-led plot to overthrow him.
Fatah has rejected a Hamas overture for "dialogue" and banned all contacts with the group.
Israeli and Western officials say Israel plans to tighten a financial clampdown on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip that would choke off all but humanitarian and basic supplies.
Carter, who brokered the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt in 1978, said moves to give Palestinians assistance in the West Bank was an attempt to "reward them", while continuing to "punish" the 1.5 million aid-dependent Palestinians in Gaza.
"This effort to divide Palestine into two peoples now, I think it is a step in the wrong direction," Carter said.
"There is no effort being made outside to bring the two together."
U.S. President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met in Washington on Tuesday and pledged to work together to strengthen Abbas against Hamas Islamists.
Carter, who was president from 1977-1981 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his charitable work, has been highly critical of Bush's Middle East policies. In May he described Bush's presidency as "the worst in history".
Carter told reporters that U.S-run detention camps, such as Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and U.S. anti-terrorism laws, were unacceptable even in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"This departure on human rights is completely incompatible with all the predecessors in the White House," he said.
"It's excused inadequately by the aftermath of 9/11 that the terrorism threat is so great that we can abandon our basic American principles on human rights," he said. "I strongly disagree with that."