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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 05:26 GMT
Blair seeks Mid-East support
Tony Blair on Middle East diplomatic tour
Tony Blair is also keen to shore up support in the UK
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has been visiting Jordan on Thursday on the latest leg of his diplomatic mission to the Middle East.

He met the country's leader King Abdullah to discuss the war against global terrorism and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Tony Blair and Bashar al-Assad
Blair had a tricky meeting with Assad

He will continue to Israel for talks with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and to Gaza, where he will meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

On Wednesday, Mr Blair was received politely in Syria and Saudi Arabia, but both countries have deep reservations about the US-led military campaign against Osama Bin Laden, the Islamic militant suspected of masterminding last month's terror attacks on the United States.

In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad condemned the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan and accused the Israelis of terrorising the Palestinians.

The BBC's Andrew Marr, travelling with Mr Blair, says Wednesday was an "intensely difficult and at times embarrassing day of shuttle diplomacy".

In Amman, Mr Blair is likely to hear more Arab concerns about the possible impact of US-led action against Afghanistan.

Jordan is worried that military action may extend to neighbouring Iraq and destabilise the already turbulent region.

King Abdullah has said that would be "a great catastrophe".

Mr Blair's visit to the Middle East comes as the US steps up its military campaign, with increased air raids on the north of the country.

Moderate opinion

Arab and Muslim disquiet over the air attacks on Afghanistan, now in their fourth week, has grown as the chances of a swift conclusion to the fighting diminish.

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Middle East states: Where they stand
King Abdullah has tried to put Jordan at the forefront of moderate Arab states behind the coalition.

But anti-US sentiment has hardened during the eruption of Palestinian-Israeli violence, with neighbouring Jordan housing more than a million Palestinian refugees.

Tony Blair and  Yasser Arafat outside 10 Downing Street
Yasser Arafat visited London earlier in October
Jordanian Minister of State Saleh Qallab said: "Jordan is working and following up on the necessity to set up a Palestinian state as soon as possible."

He called for an immediate "halt to Israeli attacks against the Palestinian people and the withdrawal of Israeli troops" from Palestinian-controlled areas.

After meeting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in London on 15 October, Mr Blair called for "a viable Palestinian state, as part of a negotiated and agreed settlement that guarantees peace and security for Israel".

War criticised

Syria's President Assad publicly rejected what seems to have been a private attempt by Mr Blair to have him to rein in anti-Israeli militants based in Damascus.

Syria is classed as a state sponsor of terrorism by the US.

Damascus is the headquarters of a number of militant groups, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which says it killed an Israeli cabinet minister two weeks ago in retaliation for the killing of its own leader.

While Mr Assad welcomed what he called Mr Blair's respect for Islam, he criticised the war in Afghanistan.

"We cannot accept what we see every day on our television screens, whereby hundreds of innocent civilians are dying," Mr Assad said.

Mr Assad also took issue with the definition of terrorism, refusing to class Palestinian militant groups as terrorists.

"We have made distinctions between terrorism and resistance, and insisted on the distinction between Islam and terrorism," he said.

Mr Blair, like US President George W Bush, is keen to calm tensions between Israel and the Palestinians in order to discourage Arab sympathy for anti-western militants.

Mr Blair said he did not feel snubbed or embarrassed by Mr Assad's fierce denunciation of western military action in Afghanistan or his insistence that the militant groups based in Damascus were "freedom fighters" not terrorists.

Later on Wednesday, after a meeting with King Fahd of Saudi Arabi, Mr Blair said he had reached an agreement to work with Riyadh for a broad-based government in a reconstructed Afghanistan.

"They (the Saudis) are very much part of the international coalition against terrorism," he said, adding that he was grateful for Saudi support.

Saudi Arabia has, however, refused to allow its air bases to be used for the bombing of Afghanistan.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jim Fish
"The climate for peace-making could hardly be less welcoming"
Palestinian affairs analyst, Ghassan Khatib
says many Palestinians have high expectations of Mr Blair's visit
See also:

31 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Syria trip 'opens bridge for dialogue'
31 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Arab world gives Blair tough message
30 Oct 01 | Middle East
Israel considers further withdrawal
26 Oct 01 | Middle East
Analysis: US unease over Israeli action
15 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Blair urges Mid-East progress
15 Oct 01 | Middle East
Q&A: A Palestinian state?
31 Oct 01 | South Asia
Taleban say 1,500 killed in raids
31 Oct 01 | Middle East
Blair's road to Damascus
01 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Rebel MPs push for war vote
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