Mideast envoy Tony Blair visits Gaza

Former British PM says he wanted to hear goals for reconstruction "first-hand from people in Gaza."

blair beit hanun 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
blair beit hanun 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Quartet Mideast envoy Tony Blair visited the Gaza Strip on Sunday morning to discuss reconstruction efforts in the territory. "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," Blair said at a UN-run school in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun. "These are the people who need to be the focus of all our efforts for peace and progress from now on." Blair went on to say that he would pass on "their account of events, their assessment of what is needed for reconstruction, their goals for rebuilding a vibrant sector" to Monday's international conference on rebuilding Gaza in Sharm e-Sheikh. It was Blair's first visit to Gaza since he was appointed to represent the Mideast peacemaking "quartet" of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations in 2007. He was the latest in a number of high-ranking diplomats to visit the Strip since the IDF ended its operation there. Blair spokesman Matthew Doyle said that the envoy would meet with Gaza community representatives but not with members of Hamas. After visiting Gaza Blair stopped over in Sderot, where he stressed the importance of Gilad Schlit's swift release from Gaza captivity. Blair said that his visit to the beleaguered southern city was due to the importance of the world realizing that people on both sides of the border were suffering. European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana visited the Strip on Friday, before meeting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Saturday.