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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 20:53 GMT
Blair seeks return to Mid-East peace
Tony Blair meets Yasser Arafat in Gaza
Blair said Mid-East peace was crucial for the world
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has called on Israel and the Palestinians to "stop the bloodshed and talk", saying both sides needed to recognise each other's right to a state.


We have to be the ones who take charge of this situation and drive the extremists out of the equation

Tony Blair
After meeting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Gaza on the final stop of a Middle East tour aimed at shoring up support for the US-led campaign against the Taleban regime in Afghanistan, Mr Blair said he would do whatever he could to move the Israel-Palestinian peace process forward.

Standing alongside Mr Blair, Mr Arafat rejected a call from Saudi-born dissident Osama Bin Laden, the man blamed for the 11 September terror attacks on the United States, for Pakistani Muslims to confront the West as "very dangerous talk" and pledged his backing for an international coalition against terrorism.

Mr Blair compared the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians to the troubles in Northern Ireland, saying it might take "as many years to get people round a table to talk about their differences and solve it".

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Middle East states: Where they stand

He told reporters his meetings with regional leaders had shown the true voice of Islam was not extreme, and he spoke of the need to "drive extremists out of the equation".

Mr Blair said while there was a "gulf of misunderstanding" between the Arab and Muslim world and the West, last month's attacks on America were unjustifiable, "no matter how passionately people believe in a cause".

Ariel Sharon greets Tony Blair in Jerusalem
Sharon told Blair he would not compromise on Israel's security
Mr Arafat thanked Mr Blair for his visit and recommitted his people to the fragile ceasefire between the Palestinians and Israel.

Earlier, following talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Mr Blair told a joint press conference that the situation between Israel and the Palestinians had to be calmed down so that the peace process could be restarted.

Mr Blair said the stability, security and future of the world depended on a resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The prime minister urged Mr Sharon to act within international law, although he said he understood the pressure the Israeli leader was under in the face of "terrorist attacks".

BBC Jerusalem correspondent Stephen Gibbs says Britain and America are concerned that if the Middle East conflict escalates, the fragile coalition they have formed with moderate Arab states will collapse.

A Palestinian examines the remains of a car hit by Israeli missiles
Israel said it killed would-be suicide bombers in a missile strike near Tulkarm
Declaring Mr Blair a friend of Israel, Mr Sharon said Israel was ready for painful compromises, but would not make concessions over the security of its people.

The Israeli leader said he was forming a team to hold peace talks with the Palestinians once the ongoing violence ended to achieve "first a ceasefire agreement and after that a political agreement".

Mr Sharon said that as a former soldier, he knew as much about the value of peace as anybody, but would do nothing to undermine Israel's security.

"I have always said that for true peace, the state of Israel is ready to make painful compromises but there will be no compromise when it comes to the safety and security of the citizens of the state of Israel," he said.

And he said he was fully behind the efforts of the US-led campaign against Afghanistan's Taleban regime and Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

'Suicide bombers'

Shortly before Mr Blair arrived in Israel, two Palestinians were killed in an Israeli helicopter missile strike on their car near the West Bank town of Tulkarm. Israel said they were preparing to carry out a suicide bombing.

The driver of the car was seriously wounded and captured by Israeli forces.

Israel said it had repeatedly asked the Palestinian Authority to arrest the men, but to no avail.

Earlier, Israeli agents reportedly arrested a Hamas member, Omar Jibrini, and a Palestinian civilian in a raid on the West Bank village of Beit Iba.

Israel has been on heightened alert since Tuesday amid warnings that Palestinian militants were planning to carry out suicide bombings on the northern Israeli coastal plain.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Orla Guerin
"Any real breakthrough here will come via the White House"
Former Arab League Ambassador, Ghayth Armanazi
gives his reaction to Tony Blair's visit to the Middle East
Israeli Embassy spokesman in USA, Mark Regev
"We can't have a peace process as long as terrorism remains at the top of the agenda"
See also:

01 Nov 01 | Middle East
Palestinians doubt Blair can deliver
01 Nov 01 | Middle East
Short-term success in Mid-East for Blair
01 Nov 01 | Middle East
Anti-British demo cancelled
01 Nov 01 | UK
Blair the 'quiet American'
01 Nov 01 | Media reports
Mid-East papers sceptical over Blair tour
01 Nov 01 | Middle East
Assad's strong words
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