Blair is greeted by Israeli defiance

War on Terrorism: Middle East
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The Independent Online

Tony Blair vowed last night to continue his efforts to restart the Middle East peace process and build an international coalition against terrorism, despite Israel's refusal to abandon its policy of assassinating leading militants and occupying Palestinian towns.

Mr Blair will use Concorde's return to the skies to fly to Washington next week to brief President George Bush on his talks in the Middle East. He is then likely to fly back to London immediately for a meeting with Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister.

At the end of his most bruising foreign encounter since he came to office, the Prime Minister declared in Jerusalem that he was determined to get his "hands dirty'' in the pursuit of peace because the Arab- Israeli dispute threatened the security and stability of the whole world. But in an example of the realities Mr Blair faces in his attempt to build international agreement in response to the events of 11 September, Mr Sharon was unrepentant about his forces assassinating two suspected Hamas members in the West Bank only hours before the two leaders met.

At a joint press conference with Mr Blair, Mr Sharon made clear that he would not end his controversial policy of "targeted killing'' that has claimed more than 60 lives in the past year. He also refused to pull back Israeli forces from four Palestinian towns that remain occupied, unless Yasser Arafat put an end to attacks on Israeli civilians.

Mr Blair made an impassioned defence of his trip to the region, declaring that it was better to try to get all parties together than to do nothing. He said: "We are in a situation where there are real dangers in the world. You can either get your hands dirty and sort them out or stand aside and let events be driven by people of violence and extremism."

Later he met the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Gaza City and warned that Osama bin Laden sought to create Taliban-type states all over the Arab and Muslim world.

Mr Blair also moved to support the Pakistani government after the Al-Jazeera satellite television channel, based in Qatar, broadcast a statement purportedly from Mr bin Laden in which he criticised the country's President, General Pervez Musharraf.

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