Blair told he is not welcome in Ramallah

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of Palestinians including politicians and intellectuals have told Tony Blair they do not want him to visit Palestinian areas on his visit to the Middle East this weekend because of his excessive support for Israel.

Mr Blair's difficulties at home, where he was forced to announce yesterday that he would be stepping down as Prime Minister within 12 months, have been compounded by his stance over the crisis in Lebanon this summer. He has found himself isolated in his approach, at home and abroad.

The group declared of Mr Blair in an advertisement in the Palestinian newspaper al-Ayyam: "He is coming here to wash clean his hands, hands that are dripping with Lebanese blood, with Palestinian water. We, the signatories... notables, intellectuals and political declare that Tony Blair is persona non grata."

Mr Blair is believed to be meeting Palestinian officials in Ramallah in the West Bank on Sunday on his visit, during which he is expected to travel to Israel and Lebanon. He has been deeply unpopular in the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and dislike turned to loathing after his refusal, with the US, to call for an immediate ceasefire in the war in Lebanon.

Politicians from neither Hamas or Fatah signed the angry letter, and the Palestinian leaders will be grateful to any foreign leader who comes to see them. Israel's war in Lebanon has diverted international attention from the plight of the Palestinians at a time when Israel has sealed off 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza.

Mr Blair's support for Israel in Lebanon was far more vigorous than that given by any British prime minister. This will make his visit welcome to the Israeli government.

Asked to comment on the Palestinian statement the British consulate in Jerusalem said: "The prime minister has announced that he will visit the Middle East soon and that his visit will deal with the fundamental issues surrounding both Lebanon and the Palestinians. There is anger and distrust on both sides."

Mr Blair's speeches during the war in Lebanon showed that he largely subscribes to the American neo-con vision of the Middle East in which reactionary Islam is on the offensive from Afghanistan to Gaza and Lebanon. He had little time for the view that American, British or Israeli occupations might be provoking a backlash.