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Blair pursues Middle East peace drive

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Blair pursues Middle East peace drive


The British Prime Minister Tony Blair is continuing his attempt to revive Middle East peace negotiations. Blair arrived in Tel Aviv last night after a surprise visit to Iraq in a bid to boost prospects for Iraqi elections next month. Today he is meeting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem, and then travelling on to the West Bank city of Ramallah. There he will hold discussions with Palestinian leaders including Mahmoud Abbas, the frontrunner in January’s election to choose a successor to the late president Yasser Arafat.

Blair’s visit is the highest-level diplomatic mission to the Palestinian territories since Arafat died near Paris last month. The meeting will happen at the half-demolished Muqata compound where the Israeli army confined Arafat in his final years. It follows talks between Italian foreign minister Gianfranco Fini and his Palestinian counterpart Nabil Sha’ath.

Fini said the “neutralisation” of militants would further the Palestinians’ right to a free and independent state. Tony Blair will be promoting a Middle East conference in London in February to keep up the momentum gained by Palestinian elections. But Israel has already said it will not take part and has insisted any such talks should deal solely with Palestinian reform.

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