Tony Blair hopes Israeli blockade of Gaza will be eased


Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he is hopeful the Israeli blockade of Gaza will be eased imminently.

The international envoy told the BBC he was confident of a partial lifting following talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Netanyahu said the principle guiding their policy was to prevent war material entering Gaza and to allow the entry of humanitarian aid.

Nine people were killed when Israeli troops boarded an aid flotilla in May.

Mr Blair's comments come on the day the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, made his first visit to the Gaza Strip since the Islamic group Hamas seized power there three years ago.

'Legitimate business'

Mr Blair, the Middle East envoy for the Quartet - made up of the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia - told the BBC a "clear and intelligent distinction" needed to be made.

"The key distinction is the one [Mr Netanyahu] is now drawing, which is between the measures necessary to stop arms coming into Gaza and allowing goods for ordinary daily life, and to rebuild the infrastructure of Gaza and to allow legitimate business to operate," he said.

"I hope very much we can build on that distinction over the next few days and get a change in policy in the way we need."

He said there was a case for more international involvement in patrolling the Gaza border crossings.

He said: "I think there is a strong case for the Palestinian Authority to be given a role in this, for the European Union - which used to have a role - and for the United Nations."

image captionTony Blair spoke to Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday

He said this would ensure material set aside for designated UN projects including building schools and hospitals would be used for those purposes.

There had been a recent change in the political climate, he said, and it was "right to recognise the problems" Israel also faced.

Calling for the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was captured by Hamas in June 2006, he said: "You still have a situation in which there are people who would threaten Israel from Gaza.

"And of course, that then has a situation where Israel goes in and takes action in respect of Gaza and more people die."

Israel and Egypt tightened their blockade on Gaza after Hamas took control of the Palestinian territory.

The Israeli government says the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas and other militant groups launching rocket attacks on Israel.

The UN and aid agency say humanitarian conditions have deteriorated in the Gaza Strip in the last three years.

Israel faced international outrage when its commandos boarded an aid flotilla of ships, which was attempting to break the blockade, on 31 May.

The flotilla, which had 41 Britons on board as well as people of many other nationalities, was carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid.

This included building materials which are currently restricted under the terms of the blockade.

Following the flotilla raid, Egypt opened its border with Gaza allowing people with valid passes to cross.

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