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Arab League, Israel welcome Blair as new Mideast envoy

RIA Novosti

28/06/2007 16:47 MOSCOW, June 28 (RIA Novosti) - The Arab League and the government of Israel both welcomed the appointment of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as a top peacemaking envoy to the Middle East.

Blair formally resigned as Britain's premier Wednesday after more than a decade in office, and within hours was confirmed as the new envoy of the Quartet of Mideast mediators, comprised of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

A senior Arab League official Thursday said that Blair could help revive the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, bringing all the concerned sides back to the negotiating table and creating conditions for them to find mutually acceptable solutions.

"In his new capacity, Blair will have more possibilities to display flexibility," Wael al-Assad, the league's international relations director, said in a RIA Novosti interview. "I hope he will be able to bring a breath of fresh air into the Mideast peace talks."

However, winning broad support in the Arab world will be no easy task for Blair, given his approval of U.S. President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq four years ago and his failure to condemn last year's Israeli strikes in southern Lebanon.

Blair's controversial Mideast track record reportedly prevented him from securing universal support in the Quartet. The British newspaper The Guardian and other Western media said Wednesday Russia was trying to block his candidacy - something Russian officials later denied.

"When the proposal was made, we said that if the Quartet supports it, we will also welcome the candidacy," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Predictably, Israel pledged support for Blair in his new job, including in his future efforts toward developing Palestinian statehood.

The Quartet said Wednesday its new envoy's duties would involve building government institutions for the Palestinians as well as promoting their economic development and raising aid.

"Israel hails the appointment of Tony Blair, and wishes him every success in building the institutions of the Palestinian Authority and assisting Palestinians in forming a foundation for a Palestinian state," the Israeli government said in a statement.

"Israel will provide all the necessary assistance for Mr. Blair so that he can effectively carry out his mandate, helping the Palestinians. From Israel's point of view, the creation of stable and 'transparent' institutions in the Palestinian Authority is essential to advancing the peace process."

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad also welcomed Blair's appointment as Mideast envoy, and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the former British premier would be an asset to Palestinian attempts to establish an independent state alongside Israel.

But representatives of the radical Islamist movement Hamas, which took over the Gaza Strip two weeks ago, expressed skepticism about Blair's ability to advance a two-state solution, describing him as an ally of Israel and the United States.

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