Tony Blair has visited the Gaza Strip for the first time since being appointed a special Middle East envoy. He visited several of the sites destroyed in 22 days of Israeli attacks at the turn of the year. He also saw an English lesson at a UN school but did not meet any Hamas officials.
The trip was a forerunner to an international donors’ conference in Sharm el-Sheik where they will talk about rebuilding. Blair said: “There will be money that will come in. And there will be money, probably a significant amount, pledged at the conference. But this money will not have a lasting impact unless there is a political solution.” The former British Prime Minister – who represents the quartet of peace mediators comprising the EU, America, the United Nations and Russia – said the devastation was plain to see. More than 1300 people were killed in the action, many of them civilians. Those survivors who lost their homes now live in a collection of tented refugee camps. Blair also visited Sderot in Israel, a frequent target attacked by Palestinian militants with rockets from the Gaza Strip. The Israeli government said they were prompted into the heavy military campaign in Gaza by the repeated rocket attacks on civilian targets like Sderot and other towns near the border – attacks which are still continuing. But critics of Israel’s offensive say it was a disproportionate response.