The British prime minister has confirmed that an international conference on the Middle East will take place in the UK next year, in a bid to kickstart the stalled peace plan. Tony Blair visited Ramallah – the first world leader to do so since the death of Yasser Arafat.Mahmoud Abbas – the favourite to replace Arafat in elections on January 9 – said the London conference will be the first step to achieving and consolidating the peace process. He reiterated that Palestinians wanted to follow the internationally-backed road map for a Palestinian state. Blair said the meeting, which will discuss Palestinian reforms, is not a substitute for the so-called road map. “There is a sense of hope about progress but as we all know hope is one thing and translating it into reality is another and I hope the conference in London can play a part in this.”
Both Blair and his Israeli counterpart agreed there would no need for Israel to attend. Ariel Sharon aims to evacuate all 8,000 settlements from the Gaza Strip next year and four in the West Bank.Sharon repeated his condition that the Palestinians had to end terrorism attacks before the road map could be implemented. Whether Blair’s summit will encourage Palestinian militants to give dialogue a chance remains to be seen.