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The United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia announced the appointment Wednesday of outgoing British prime minister Tony Blair as their representative in efforts to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Hours after Blair stepped down, the so-called Quartet of international mediators who have tried unsuccessfully for more than four years to end the Mideast conflict gave the former British leader the difficult job of trying to help get stalled peace efforts back on track.
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A statement from the Quartet said Blair will focus on mobilizing international support and assistance for the Palestinians, a job that will be even tougher now because of the sharp divide between Hamas, which wrested control of the Gaza Strip earlier this month, and Fatah, which controls the West Bank.
"The urgency of recent events has reinforced the need for the international community, bearing in mind the obligations of the parties, to help Palestinians as they build the institutions and economy of a viable state in Gaza and the West Bank, able to take its place as a peaceful and prosperous partner to Israel and its other neighbors," the Quartet statement said.
"To facilitate efforts to these ends, following discussions among the principals, today the Quartet announced the appointment of Tony Blair as the Quartet Representative," it said.
UN spokeswoman Michele Montas announced the appointment and released the statement.
Blair will replace former World Bank head James Wolfensohn, who quit in frustration after less than a year in the post.
The Quartet unveiled a road map to peace in 2003, with simultaneous steps by Israel and the Palestinians, culminating in the establishment of a Palestinian state. But implementation of the road map has been stalled for several years.
In Wednesday's statement, the Quartet said recent events in Gaza and the West Bank "make it more urgent than ever that we advance the search for peace in the Middle East."
"The Quartet reaffirms its objective to promote an end to the conflict in conformity with the road map and expresses its intention to redouble its efforts in that regard," the statement said.
According to the Quartet statement, Blair will work with a small team of experts, based in Jerusalem, from partner countries and institutions.
"As representative, Tony Blair will bring continuity and intensity of focus to the work of the Quartet in support of the Palestinians, within the broader framework of the Quartet's efforts to promote an end to the conflict in conformity with the road map," the statement said.
"He will spend significant time in the region working with the parties and others to help create viable and lasting government institutions representing all Palestinians, a robust economy, and a climate of law and order for the Palestinian people," it said.
"The Quartet representative will report to and consult regularly with the Quartet and be guided by it as necessary," the statement said.
In his new job, the Quartet said Blair will seek to mobilize international assistance to the Palestinians and develop plans to promote Palestinian economic development. He will also seek international support to address the needs of Palestinian government institutions, "focusing as a matter of urgency on the rule of law," said the statement.