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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 19:04 GMT 20:04 UK
Blair issues new Mid-East peace call
Israelis troops by their tank
Blair urged the Israelis to withdraw its troops
The potential of continuing violence in the Middle East to spill beyond the region cannot be exaggerated, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has told MPs.

In a Commons statement about the crisis in the region, he repeated his calls for both Israelis and Palestinians to halt the violence.

The hatreds are too deep and the wounds too raw for the two sides to be able to resolve them alone

Tony Blair
Mr Blair insisted Israelis must withdraw from their West Bank incursions, but also condemned Palestinian suicide bombings.

Ahead of US Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to the region, Mr Blair said the international community stood ready to help but it needed both sides to restart talks.

"The hatreds are too deep and the wounds too raw for the two sides to be able to resolve them alone," the prime minister continued.

Colin Powell, US Secretary of State
Colin Powell is travelling to the Middle East

Mr Blair issued a strong warning of the prospect of wider international stability being jeopardised by the conflict.

"It is hard to overstate the dangers or the potential for this conflict to impact far beyond the region itself," he said.

Last week, President George Bush urged the Israelis to withdraw their forces and for the Palestinians to take action against suicide bombers.

Mr Blair echoed that "even handed" message, arguing that suicide bombings must stop not only because they are wrong but because they damage the Palestinians' cause.

Those moves were "minimum steps" for the resumption of an essential political process.

Mr Blair again proposed that the peace plan offered by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudia Arabia should form the basis of a new United Nations resolution.

Rising bloodshed

He reiterated his offer to provide British observers to help monitor any agreed ceasefire.

Urgent action was needed to stem the rising tide of bloodshed, whose latest victims were the eight people killed in a suicide attack on a bus near the Israeli city of Haifa on Wednesday, he added.

Donald Anderson, Labour chairman of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, suggested threat of sanctions might be the only way to return both sides to negotiation.

Donald Anderson, foreign affairs select committee chairman
Donald Anderson asked about the threat of sanctions
But the prime minister, who has written about the need for peace in an Arab newspaper, did not think that would prove successful in the current climate.

Mr Powell is hoping to broker a new ceasefire but the Israelis stopped troop withdrawals in the wake of the latest suicide attack.

The US secretary of state's trip was applauded by Mr Blair as evidence that America was earnestly engaged in the search for peace and stability.

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said: "There must be a stepping up of our efforts to help both Israel and the Palestinian people find a resolution to the conflict."

'Force no answer'

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy described the situation in the Middle East as an "appalling tragedy".

The signal must be sent with new resonance that "just meeting force with still more force and more violence will never provide a solution", he said.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told an audience at the Lord Mayor of London's Banquet on Wednesday that it was "imperative" that Israel withdrew its forces from the occupied territories.

"I say to Israel, as a friend and supporter, that a secure future has to come through negotiation and reconciliation. That path must begin now," he said.

Act now

"And to President Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, I say that never has it been more necessary for effective action to clamp down on terrorists and terrorism inside the occupied territories and Israel itself."

The prime minister also used his statement to stress that doing nothing against Saddam Hussein's "despicable" regime in Iraq was not an option.

But many Labour MPs continued to voice their concern over possible military strikes to tackle Iraq's alleged build-up of weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Blair insisted no decisions had been taken on such action, nor were they imminent. But his critics argue any campaign would only enflame the Middle East violence.

Next Tuesday MPs will debate the Middle East crisis in full in the Commons.

See also:

09 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Israeli withdrawal 'not enough'
10 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair faces Iraq showdown
08 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair to set out Mid-East stance
07 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair faces dissent over Iraq
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