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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Blair hails Mid-East peace move

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Blair hails Mid-East peace move

Blair hails Mid-East peace move
Tony Blair says his talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders have achieved his goal of promoting a conference on reform in the Palestinian Authority.

The UK prime minister said the London conference would be an important opportunity to revive peace talks.

The summit, which Israel will not attend, aims to assist the Palestinians with democratic and economic reforms.

Mr Blair also briefly visited the tomb of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah - the first world leader to do so.

He nodded briefly towards the tomb, in what Palestinian officials said was a compromise gesture agreed at the last minute.

Palestinians said Mr Blair's delegation had ruled out laying a wreath - something Foreign Secretary Jack Straw did on 25 November.

The BBC's Paul Reynolds says the London conference will be a limited measure to shore up the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, who is expected to win the Palestinian presidential election on 9 January.

At a news conference following talks with Mr Blair, Mr Abbas said the British prime minister was "in a unique position to help us progress in our peaceful pursuit".

He added: "Your endeavour to hold a conference in London is another example of your deep commitment to this purpose. It is the first step towards achieving and consolidating the peace process."

Mr Blair said: "After many months and years when it has been very difficult to see progress, I think there is a great sense of hope that there can be progress...

"I hope that this London conference can play some part in that."

Renewed violence

Earlier, after the Jerusalem talks, Mr Sharon said the Palestinians had to end terror attacks before the stalled roadmap plan could be implemented.

The only real prospect for a settlement can come when the US applies real pressure on Israel
John M, UK

"Up until now, we don't see the slightest step on the part of the Palestinians," he said, before acknowledging that Palestinian leaders were in the middle of an election campaign that could be hampering their efforts.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops say they killed a Palestinian fighter in a raid on a Gaza refugee camp.

Tanks and troops moved into the Khan Younis camp in Gaza, in what the Israeli military said was an attempt to stop rocket attacks on Jewish settlements.

Eleven Palestinians died and at least 40 were hurt in an incursion into the same area over the weekend.

Wednesday also saw an Israeli working on the security barrier Israel is constructing in the West Bank killed by Palestinian gunfire west of the flashpoint city of Hebron.

Police also said that an Israeli woman stabbed to death at a co-operative farm near Jerusalem on Tuesday night was the victim of a Palestinian attack.
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