A delegation of international dignitaries and veteran world leaders said Tuesday they would use their influence to promote Mideast peace and encourage the region's people to believe that it is possible.
The elder statesmen, including Nobel Peace Prize laureates Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, are visiting Israel and the West Bank for four days to meet political leaders, civic groups and young people to listen to those whose lives are affected by the conflict, said the delegation's leader, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
"We are trying to use our remaining influence to assist in conflict resolution and to address calls of injustice and human suffering," Cardoso said.
Called The Elders, the group's stated mission is to bring together independent international leaders to contribute to resolving conflicts. It was founded by former South African President Nelson Mandela in 2007.
Mandela, 91, an honorary elder, has retired from public life and was not able to travel, group officials said.
Cardoso said the group is supportive of renewed peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and The Elders' role is to ensure people's concerns and hopes are addressed in the negotiations.
"We are here to listen, to see, to understand ... and to motivate people by saying peace is possible, and we need to strive for peace," Cardoso said.
Carter and Tutu have been harsh critics of Israel. Carter has referred to the Israeli treatment of Palestinians as amounting to "apartheid" and has opposed Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Tutu had a high-profile spat with Israel when he was not allowed into the country as part of a U.N. fact-finding mission investigating an Israeli shelling attack on the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun in 2006.
This is the group's first visit to the Middle East. Previous peace-building missions by the group have focused on humanitarian issues in Sudan, Zimbabwe and Cyprus.
On Tuesday, the delegation met with civic leaders and young Israelis in Jerusalem and attended a memorial service at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial.
On Wednesday, the delegation is scheduled to meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres, 86, himself a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, before traveling to the West Bank city of Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The group will not visit Hamas-ruled Gaza because of security concerns but will video conference with Gaza residents, organizers said.
Other members of the delegation are Ela Bhatt, a women's rights activist from India, former Irish President Mary Robinson and former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. The group was joined by tycoon Richard Branson, who originated the idea of forming The Elders group, and former eBay President Jeff Skoll.