Israel's UN envoy calls Jimmy Carter 'bigot'

NEW YORK, April 24 (Reuters) - Israel's U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman said on Thursday that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was a "bigot" for meeting in Syria with the leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Speaking to reporters at a gathering in New York organized by The Israel Project, Gillerman said that he was saddened by the meeting and that in his mind Carter had become "what I believe to be a bigot" for having the meeting.

Carter "went to the region with soiled hands and came back with bloody hands," he said.

The Carter Center in Atlanta was not available for a comment.

The former U.S. president, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has said Hamas' top official Khaled Meshaal told him during meetings in Damascus last week that Hamas would "accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders if approved by Palestinians."

The United States brushed off the comments on Monday, arguing that Hamas' basic stance, which includes a call in its charter for the destruction of Israel, had not changed.

The State Department has said a top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East urged Carter not to meet with Hamas, a position restated by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but Carter denied this.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, is viewed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Israel.

Carter's reference to the 1967 borders spoke of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East War, and to a referendum on a peace deal Washington hopes to clinch this year.

Hamas won a 2006 election and briefly formed a unity government with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. It seized control of Gaza from Abbas' secular Fatah faction in fighting in June 2007. (Reporting by Louis Charbonneau, Editing by Eric Walsh)