Blair focus switches to Mideast
JERUSALEM -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has arrived in Israel for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Gaza.
In an interview with the regional MBC television station, the British PM told Arab and Israeli viewers: "What I will be saying in Israel is that we have to get a process of dialogue based on two fixed points of principle.
"The first is that Israel must exist as a state confident in its own security and the second is that the Palestinian people should be able to live in their state according to the principles of justice.
"Based on these two fixed points of principle, I believe we can make progress. This is only going to work if people engage and discuss."
Blair flew in to Jerusalem from Amman, Jordan, where he had a working breakfast with Jordan's King Abdullah II on the third leg of his quick-fire Middle East shuttle.
British Ambassador Edward Chaplin said Blair's talks were focused on getting Palestinians and Israelis "back to the negotiating table" after more than a year of fighting.
The drive to restart Middle East peace moves formed part of Blair's mission to shore up Arab suppport for the U.S.-led war against terrorism.
After meeting the king the British PM said that moderate Arab leaders were taking a stand against militants who had "hijacked" Islam.
Blair told reporters after his talks with the monarch that he had found in Jordan and in Saudi Arabia, which he visited Wednesday, "a clear sense for the need for moderate Muslims to make a stand against Islamist extremists who have hijacked Islam."
He said there was a need to remain firm in the international coalition against terrorism.
Jordanian officials said Blair and the king discussed the Palestinian-Israeli bloodshed and the war against terrorism.
Blair held talks with King Abdullah in London two weeks ago. The monarch is due to pay a state visit to Britain next week.
King Abdullah was among the first moderate Arab leaders to give his full backing to U.S. President George W. Bush's campaign against terrorism.
The British PM's visit to Jordan followed talks with Saudi King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah in Riyadh and with President Bashar Assad in Damascus.
In Damascus he heard first hand Arab anger at the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan. At a joint news conference, Assad denounced the air raids for causing "hundreds" of civilian casualties.
It was Blair's first face-to-face confrontation with the controversy caused by the U.S. and UK campaign, although aides insisted later he had expected Assad to restate his well-known hostility to the bombing.
While visits to Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan highlighted Arab concerns over civilian casualties in Afghanistan, aides to Blair said they had been a useful means of introducing new impetus into the process.
Blair's visit to Israel takes place against the background of British ministers' recognition that military action in Afghanistan is likely to take months.
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott told the House of Commons that operations against the Taliban would begin making "steady progress over the winter months building up to spring next year".
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