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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Blair 'appalled' by Mid East violence
Israeli tanks roll into the West Bank city of Nablus
Tony Blair is "appalled" by the escalating violence in the Middle East and thinks the situation is the "most explosive" seen for years, Downing Street says.

Number 10 says the prime minister wants to use his weekend summit with President George Bush to discuss how the US can persuade the Israelis and Palestinians to pull back from the "abyss".

There is already a crisis but it is on the verge of catastrophe

Jack Straw
UK Foreign Secretary

Mr Blair and Mr Bush discussed the Middle East violence during a telephone conversation on Thursday afternoon. No details of the call were released by Downing Street.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has cut short a trip to the West Indies and South America and returned to Westminster because of the crisis.

Mr Straw told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme: "There is already a crisis but it is on the verge of a catastrophe."

A European Union peace mission has been sent to Jerusalem to mediate, but Israel says the EU officials cannot meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

'Despair and desperation'

But a spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs envoy Javier Solana said there was "no doubt" there would be contact with the Palestinian leaders.

Israeli forces have been tightening their grip on the West Bank on Thursday.

Such moves were criticised by Mr Straw, who said diplomacy alone could be the path to peace.

George Galloway at the demonstration
Labour MP George Galloway joined a pro-Palestinian protest outside Downing Street
"We all understand why there is such despair and desperation in Israel, but we have also to understand why there is such continuing despair, desperation and suffering in the occupied territories," he said.

"And the key point I would make as a friend of Israel as well as a friend of the Palestinians is that invasion of the occupied territories is simply not the answer to suicide bombings.

"Yes there are security concerns, we understand those, but there will only be peace in this region through negotiation and not through military action."

Mr Straw said the EU would be working closely with Washington to forge a new political alternative to violence.

Foreign Office Minister Ben Bradshaw said he had been "extremely blunt" when raised concerns with the Israeli ambassador in London over the safety of Britons on the West Bank.

Northern Ireland lessons

Earlier, Downing Street said the key for the summit between Mr Blair and Mr Bush in Texas is to get America to exert pressure on the two sides to accept a political process.

Mr Blair, who leaves for America on Friday, believes his experience with the Northern Ireland peace process can "help the US play this role".

George Bush
Blair hopes to learn more from Bush about the Iraqi threat

The prime minister believes President Bush is "fully engaged" in peace efforts.

Later, it was announced that US Secretary of State Colin Powell will visit the region himself.

Possible military action against Iraq over its alleged build-up of weapons of mass destruction is also on the agenda for the meeting between Mr Blair and Mr Bush..

Number 10 says no decisions will be taken at the talks, but that the prime minister hopes he will get a better understanding of the threat posed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Embargo call

Opponents of action against Iraq argue such a move could only dangerously enflame the current violence in the Middle East.

One of those critics, Labour MP George Galloway told BBC News Online that UN resolutions against Iraq were viewed as sacred while action was not taken to implement those against Israel.

Mr Galloway was one of a handful of Labour MP who joined around Palestinian demonstration outside Downing Street on Thursday.

He added: "Mr Blair has to stand up for British values and stop selling British weapons to General Sharron."

The Foreign Office says its arms export critieria bar shipments where the weapons may be used for internal repression, internal armed conflict or where regional stability is at risk.

See also:

04 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Mid East crisis tests allies
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israeli tanks enter Nablus
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
EU proposes crisis diplomacy
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
US sends mixed signals on Mid-East
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Analysis: Arafat under attack
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israeli anger after seven deadly days
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