Advisors to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter were expected to meet with members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas on Friday night to discuss a possible exchange of prisoners between Hamas and Israel.

Mr. Carter met with the exiled Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, on Friday afternoon, for talks lasting at least four hours. Neither side said what the talks had covered. But Mr. Carter said beforehand he would urge Meshaal to agree to a peaceful resolution of differences with Israel and the Palestinian faction Fatah.

Friday night's talks are expected to explore the possibility of Hamas releasing an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, held since 2006, in exchange for Israel releasing Palestinian prisoners.

News reports say the talks will also cover a possible cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

Israel and the United States have criticized Mr. Carter for agreeing to meet with Hamas, which both countries consider a terrorist group.

But Mr. Carter says peace in Israel is impossible without engaging Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in 2006.

An Israeli Cabinet minister, Eli Yishai, told Mr. Carter earlier that he wants to meet with Hamas to facilitate a prisoner exchange.

Earlier while in Damascus, Mr. Carter held talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. No details of their discussion were released.

Mr. Carter has already met Hamas representatives twice this week. On Thursday, in Cairo, he asked senior Hamas officials from Gaza to halt rocket attacks against Israel. And in the West Bank Wednesday, he met a leading Hamas figure, Nasser Shaer.

Mr. Carter mediated the 1978 Camp David Accords, which paved the way for peace between Israel and Egypt. He has taken positions critical of Israel in recent years. In a 2006 book, he described Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories as a "system of apartheid."

Some information for this report provided by AFP.