WASHINGTON – Israel's top officials continued to brush off Jimmy Carter on Monday as he prepared to meet with Hamas chief Khaled Meshal, the first time a current or former U.S. president will have met with a recognized terrorist organization's leader.
Israel's secret service is not providing protection to Carter during his trip there, according to the Reuters news agency. And a local official who agreed to meet with Carter told him he was "upset" that Carter planned to meet with the terror leader, The Associated Press reported.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has continued to snub Carter, and President Shimon Peres told Carter on Sunday it was a "very big mistake" to meet with Meshal.
Meanwhile, a top political adviser to Hamas called Carter a "noble person," according to WorldNetDaily news outlet.
FOXNews.com first reported Tuesday on an item in the Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat that said Carter was preparing an unprecedented meeting with Meshal, the exiled head of Hamas who lives in Damascus. The meeting will take place this week in Syria.
A senior Hamas official confirmed reports of the meeting Thursday, according to the Associated Press.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain issued a statement calling it a "grave and dangerous mistake."
"Engaged in a campaign that deliberately targets innocent Israeli civilians, Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. President Carter is wrong to meet with Hamas, a terrorist group that has also killed innocent Americans," McCain said.
Carter was visiting the Israeli town of Sderot on Monday where he toured the site of a recent rocket attack from Gaza, Hamas' stronghold.
"I think it's a despicable crime for any deliberate effort to be made to kill innocent civilians, and my hope is there will be a cease-fire soon," Carter said.
But, the AP reported, mayor Eli Moyal told Carter he was not pleased to hear of Carter's plans in Syria.
"I don't think he should meet with killers," Moyal said.
At a later press event, Carter said he hoped to help open talks between Hamas and U.S. leaders, saying Washington's policy of not meeting with people it labeled terrorists was counterproductive.
Carter said he wanted to become a "communicator" between Hamas and the United States.
"I hope then the Israeli government will deign to meet with me -- they have so far refused," he said.
In an interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz published Monday, Carter said he intended to use the Meshal meeting to press for the return of three Israeli soldiers captured by Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group that is funded by Iran. He said he would also try to get Hamas to accept a pan-Arab plan for peace with Israel.
"The most important single foreign policy goal in my life has been to bring peace to Israel, and peace and justice to Israel's neighbors," the paper quoted Carter as saying.
While Israeli officials told FOX News there is some hope of a negotiated cease-fire in the near future, Carter's plans for the return of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers seem unlikely. One official said that Hamas wants 350 prisoners released from Israeli jails in exchange for the freedom of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, and a former U.S. president is not someone who can make that happen.
In its interview with Hamas political adviser Ahmed Yousuf, WorldNetDaily reported that Yousuf believed Carter's meeting with Hamas could hoist the group's public image, and he believed Carter "knows what is needed to achieve peace."
"Carter can achieve something no one else can. He is open-minded and has a very noble cause to come and meet with all people," Yousuf said, according to WorldNetDaily.
"If he comes and meets Hamas this will also enhance the image and understanding between America and the Muslim world. ... Carter's visit is a good step and a positive step in the right direction. It would engage with the world community," Yousuf said.
On Saturday, Carter told ABC's "This Week" that he feels "quite at ease" about his planned meeting with Meshal.
"I think there's no doubt in anyone's mind that, if Israel is ever going to find peace with justice concerning the relationship with their next-door neighbors, the Palestinians, that Hamas will have to be included in the process," Carter said in the interview, which aired Sunday.
• Video: Controversial Carter, Hamas Meeting
Several State Department officials, including the secretary, Condoleezza Rice, criticized his plans. Carter said he had not heard the objections directly, although a State Department spokesman said earlier that a senior official from the department had called the former president.
On Monday, the State Department repeated its objections, saying that now is not the time to meet with Hamas.
"We counseled against it. ... We don't think it is the time for him or anyone to meet with Hamas," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.
Carter has said no one at the State Department advised him against the meeting.
Carter, a broker of the 1978 Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his conflict mediation as president and since.
FOX News' Mike Tobin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.