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Mideast Envoy Blair Meets Israeli, Palestinian Leaders

10 October 2007

Middle East envoy Tony Blair has returned to the region for another round of shuttle diplomacy. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the visit is part of a stepped-up effort by the international community to revive the peace process.

Tony Blair is holding separate talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Blair represents the so-called "Quartet" of international powers mediating the Middle East conflict - the European Union, the United Nations, Russia and the United States.

He is helping the sides draft a document on Palestinian statehood before an international peace conference in the United States this year.

Blair has kept a low profile and has not spoken to the media.

Israeli spokesman Mark Regev says his visit comes at a crucial time.

"We are supportive of the Quartet's efforts," Regev said. "We are hopeful that we do have now (an) opportunity, together with our Palestinian partners, with the support of the international community, to make some real progress here in the region."

Israel has strengthened ties with western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June. Hamas routed the Fatah forces led by Mr. Abbas, who now heads a moderate government in the West Bank.

Blair is trying to narrow serious differences on the document on Palestinian statehood. Israel wants a vague declaration of principles, but Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia says that it is not enough.

Qureia said the document must tackle core issues of the conflict, such as Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Jewish settlements and final borders.

Israel believes it is impossible to resolve those issues in a short time and dealing with them now will lead to an impasse that could torpedo the peace process.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will follow up on Blair's efforts when she arrives in Jerusalem Sunday.

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