The British Prime Minister has arrived in Israel as part of his whistle-stop tour of the Middle East. Tony Blair is due to meet top-ranking officials from both the Israeli and Palestinian communities in Tel Aviv amid heightened tensions in the Gaza Strip. It is the last stage of a trip aimed at jump-starting the stalled Middle East peace process.
Earlier, on a visit to Iraq, Blair praised the courage of the UK’s 7000 strong force based in Basra. He also pledged his full support to the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani during talks in Baghdad. Blair promised that the UK would stand “four square” behind the Iraqi goverment in its battle to defeat terrorists and overcome the sectarian violence threatening to overwhelm the country.
126 British military personnel have died in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003. Blair’s government has announced plans to begin a gradual withdrawal of troops by the end of 2007. The UK parliament is set to debate the country’s involvement in Iraq before the end of January.