Page last updated at 20:56 GMT, Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Blair 'hopeful' of Gaza ceasefire

Tony Blair
Tony Blair represents the UN, EU, US and Russia in the Middle East

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair has said he is hopeful that a ceasefire agreement can be reached in Gaza.

Mr Blair, now a Middle East envoy, said the elements of a peace plan had been accepted, but there was still much work to be done to thrash out the details.

A ceasefire proposal has been tabled jointly by France and Egypt.

The Israelis say they have agreed "on the principles" of the deal, while militant group Hamas says there are "positive signs but no agreement yet".

The development came as Israel halted military operations in Gaza for three hours to aid humanitarian efforts.

The lull, which began about 1100 GMT and ended shortly after 1400 GMT, was the first of what an Israeli spokesman said would be a daily ceasefire to allow Gazans to "get medical attention, get supplies... whatever they need".

'Living hell'

Mr Blair, who is currently in Paris, was asked whether he believed the Franco-Egyptian proposal would work.

He replied that there was some coming together around important elements of a deal, such as an end to weapons' smuggling into Gaza and an opening up of border crossings to humanitarian aid.

But he said the fine details would be difficult to work out and would require very hard work in the coming days.

The first glimmerings are there, but it is far too early to say there is a breakthrough
Foreign Secretary David Miliband

On Tuesday, the former prime minister said the people of Gaza were living through "hell" and warned of an even "more protracted campaign" if opportunities were not seized to end the violence.

Mr Blair, who represents the UN, EU, US and Russia in the Middle East, also urged the new US administration of President-elect Barack Obama to focus on the Middle East peace process, saying the issue was central to global security.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who is in New York for talks on the crisis at the United Nations, also made a fresh call for peace on Wednesday.

And he added: "I have seen the first glimmerings of the possibility for a ceasefire.

"The first glimmerings are there, but it is far too early to say there is a breakthrough."

Palestinian health officials say at least 683 Palestinians have been killed and more than 3,085 injured since Israel began its offensive on 27 December.

Israel, meanwhile, says it has lost seven soldiers on the ground. Four other people have been killed inside the country by missile fire from Gaza.

Casualty claims in Gaza cannot be independently verified.



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