Blair confirms plans for Middle East summit

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair proposed an international conference next year focused on implementing reforms in the Palestinian administration.

Blair, who was visiting the region as part of revived peace efforts, said he hoped the meeting would help prepare the Palestinians for Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza next year.

The Palestinians said they hoped the meeting would be a major international peace conference dealing with the thorny issues that have stymied past peace efforts. Israel said the conference should deal only with reforms in the Palestinian Authority and new donor aid for the Palestinians.

In announcing the conference today, Blair said it would have narrow goals, focusing on strengthening and reforming the Palestinian administration and its security forces.

"What (the conference) can do, I hope, is ensure that there is a real sense that when disengagement happens there are plans and proposals in place to allow the Palestinian side to become a real partner for peace with Israel," Blair said during a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Blair said he hoped the disengagement plan would lead to the revival of the internationally backed "road map" peace plan, which envisions the creation of a Palestinian state next year.

Sharon said that the Palestinians must end terror attacks before the long-stalled road map can be implemented. Sharon said the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat gave both sides a window of opportunity to push for peace.

However, the Palestinians must crack down on terrorism, and they are not, Sharon said."Up until now, we don't see the slightest step on the part of the Palestinians," he said, acknowledging that they are in the middle of an election campaign, which could be hampering their efforts.

Blair also expressed his condolences for the 15 US soldiers killed in an Iraqi militant attack Tuesday on a US base outside the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.