Middle East envoy Blair prepares Gaza visit
Gaza, July 14, 2008
Middle East envoy Tony Blair is expected to travel to the Gaza Strip this week in what would be the highest-level visit by a Western official since Hamas took control a year ago, Hamas and Western officials said.
The visit would come nearly a month after an Egyptian-brokered truce curbed cross-border fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in the coastal enclave.
Since his appointment last year, Blair has shunned Hamas, in keeping with a US-led boycott of the Islamist group over its refusal to recognise Israel and renounce violence.
Blair's office on Monday declined to comment on the former British prime minister's travel plans.
Hamas spokesman Ismail Rudwan said the group was aware of the planned visit and was making "all the necessary security arrangements".
Rudwan, in a statement posted on a pro-Hamas website, said the expected visit proved "the stability of the security situation in Gaza".
Palestinian and Western officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, cautioned that the trip could be delayed due to security considerations.
Aside from UN officials, few Western dignitaries have visited the Gaza Strip since Hamas routed more secular Fatah forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and seized control in June 2007.
The Quartet of international powers -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- appointed Blair to the envoy post a year ago with an economic focus to bolster the chances of a peace deal this year.
Most of the economic projects promoted by Blair have been earmarked for the occupied West Bank, where Abbas and his Western-backed government hold sway. But Blair included in his economic package a major sewage project for the northern Gaza Strip.
Israel tightened its cordon of the Gaza Strip after Hamas's takeover, and it took months of lobbying by Blair and other Western officials to get Israeli permission to bring in pipes, wire and other equipment for the North Gaza Sewage Treatment Works project.
Under the Egyptian-brokered truce, Israel has started to ease its cordon, allowing in more humanitarian supplies as well as some construction materials, like cement.
Gazans view the sewage project as urgent: last year, five people drowned in a wave of raw sewage from a plant in northern Gaza. Israel had argued that equipment needed to repair the sewage system could be used to make rockets that are fired into Israel. - Reuters
More INTERNATIONAL NEWS Stories
- China premier warns on economic slowdown
- Gunmen fire on army bus in Cairo, 1 killed
- Lost jet 'may have flown for four hours'
- Gold up as Ukraine, China prompt safe-haven bids
- Search finds no sign of lost plane at suspect spot
- Missing jet may have strayed to Andaman
- Gold hits near 6-month high
- 2 killed in Manhattan building blast
- Cameron pushes for travel bans on Russian MPs
- Indian coastguards join Malaysia jet search
- Confusion as search for lost jet spreads
- Military denies lost plane's flight to Malacca
- Investors monitoring Pimco after internal strife
- N Korea tanker ‘leaves Libya rebel port carrying oil’
- Malaysia plane incident not terror related: Interpol
- Crimea closes air space to commercial flights
- Missing Malaysian plane last seen At Malacca Strait
- Stolen passport holder on missing plane is Iranian
- China deploys 10 satellites to search for Malaysia jet
- Libya says halts tanker outside port; rebels deny it
- Libya orders military force to 'liberate' ports
- Big bananas: Chiquita, Fyffes merge
- Radar sweeps, dozens of aircraft, but no sign of plane
- N Korea tanker loads oil at Libya rebel port
- Gold drops as US growth optimism weighs
- Merkel raps Putin; Russia tightens grip on Crimea
- World 'at sea' over missing Malaysian jetliner
- Passports requiring probe were on Malaysia flight
- 40 killed in Yemen as Houthi fighters near capital
- Vietnam finds object in sea; search on