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Blair may be Mideast peace envoy
JERUSALEM — International Mideast negotiators today searched for ways to revive peace talks after Hamas‘ takeover of the Gaza Strip, and U.S. officials said they expected to name outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair as a senior envoy. 2:38 p.m.
Heading into the meeting, a U.N. spokesman said the envoys had “no set agenda” and would discuss “recent developments and the way forward.” The talks were the first by the Quartet since Hamas took control of Gaza, a development that has complicated peace prospects. The Islamic militant Hamas is sworn to Israel’s destruction.
He would not discuss the prospects of Mr. Blair being named the group’s envoy but said the meeting in Jerusalem had included a discussion about such a post and what its duties might be.
“They have talked about the idea … of having an envoy, having someone who would be available on behalf of the Quartet to work on a variety of issues, including efforts to help support the development of Palestinian Authority institutions,” Mr. Casey told reporters.
He would not be drawn out when asked specifically about Mr. Blair but said the outgoing prime minister “is someone who certainly is dedicated to achieving peace in the Middle East.”
Mr. Blair himself did not rule out the idea today.
“I think that anybody who cares about greater peace and stability in the world knows that a lasting and enduring resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue is essential,” he said in London. “As I have said on many occasions, I would do whatever I could to help such a resolution come about.”
Yesterday’s summit at an Egyptian resort on the Red Sea was meant to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Western-backed Fatah party was severely weakened when rival Hamas took over the Gaza Strip. The Hamas takeover has left the Palestinians with two governments — Abbas‘ new Cabinet based in the West Bank and the Hamas rulers of Gaza, who are internationally isolated.
At the summit, the leaders committed to work for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which have been stalled since 2001. The Quartet are the sponsors of the 2003 “road map,” a peace plan that never got off the ground.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged yesterday to release 250 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails and “substantially” improve Palestinian movement in the West Bank by lifting some of the hundreds of Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks in the area. He said he would hold “frequent meetings” with Mr. Abbas‘ new government.
The Arab leaders hope the high-profile gathering can lead to a resumption of the long-stalled peace process, rally Palestinian support behind Mr. Abbas and isolate Hamas after the Islamic militant group’s stunning victory in Gaza.
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