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Blair shocked by Gaza destruction

Tony Blair in Gaza
Mr Blair wanted to hear how people had been affected by the fighting

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair has said he is appalled by the destruction caused by the recent fighting in Gaza.

He was visiting the territory for the first time since he became a Middle East envoy two years ago.

On a separate visit, the International Development Secretary, Douglas Alexander, said Britain would give £30m towards re-building damaged homes.

Both he and Mr Blair are due to attend an aid conference in Egypt on Monday which will discuss re-construction.

Mr Alexander said the aid money - £10m of which had been pledged in January - was to be spent on rebuilding schools, hospitals and homes damaged in the three-week Israeli offensive against militants in Gaza.

Around 1,300 Palestinians, of whom 412 were children, were killed during the fighting and 21,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged.

Reconstruction

Mr Blair said everyone he had met in the territory wanted to live in peace with Israel and the international community must do everything it could to establish a Palestinian state.

He told the BBC: "It is a huge challenge, but what's the alternative?

"The alternative to a two-state solution is a one-state solution and then there's going to be a big fight.

Israel must do the right thing and allow much-needed goods to get through
Douglas Alexander
International Development Secretary

"The whole of the world has got an interest in making sure that does not happen and that we have a two-state solution, because it's perfectly possible to have one."

Speaking at a UN-run school in the northern town of Izbet Beit Hanoun, near the border with Israel, Mr Blair said: "I wanted to come to hear for myself first-hand from people in Gaza, whose lives have been so badly impacted by the recent conflict.

"These are the people who need to be the focus of all our efforts for peace and progress from now on."

He promised to relay their appeals for assistance to the conference on Gaza in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheikh.

Great obstacles

Mr Blair, who is the Middle East representative of the European Union, Russia, the UN and the US, is not scheduled to meet members of the governing party Hamas, although the visit has been co-ordinated with them.

The rubble of a house in Jabaliya, Gaza (22/02/2009)
Around 21,000 homes were destroyed or damaged during the recent conflict.

He stopped short of saying that any future strategy for peace would involve negotiations with Hamas, but said "the way is open for Hamas if they want to take it".

The BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen said there were great obstacles to any political progress, not least that Palestinians themselves are divided over the way ahead.

Israel's prime minister-designate Benyamin Netanyahu, has also not endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state, he added.

The Department for International Development said the UK's contribution would also help restore water, sewage and electricity supplies to Gaza's population - 90% of whom require food aid.

But Mr Alexander said there was also "a desperate need" for Israel to relax its restrictions on the delivery of supplies to the territory.

"The continuing suffering in the area is very clear and we must provide more than just basic humanitarian support if we are to help rebuild people's lives," he said.

"Gaza needs money, fuel and construction materials and whilst these goods are turned away at the borders, repairs to homes, water systems and the electricity network will remain impossible.

"Israel must do the right thing and allow much-needed goods to get through to those men, women and children who continue to suffer."

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