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Middle East

Leaks destabilising for Palestinians, says Blair

The leaking of hundreds of documents covering decades of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations was designed to be "extremely damaging" to the peace process in the region, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said today.

The documents, which include allegations that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas secretly made major concessions to Israel, were leaked this week to Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arab satellite station.

Abbas and his aides say they are victims of a smear campaign but the disclosure has increased tensions between Abbas and the Islamic militant Hamas, which wrested the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian president in a violent takeover in 2007.

Today Mr Blair, now an international peace envoy to the Middle East, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he thought the leaks would be "destabilising" for the Palestinians.

He said: "I think it is hard to tell right now but its intention was to be extremely damaging.

"I think amongst Palestinians it is actually slightly less hyper, if you like, than it is elsewhere in the region.

"I think most people when they sit back and they think about it, you would expect people negotiating, to be putting forward positions, taking them back.

"We couldn't have done the Northern Ireland peace process if the entire time everything was being put out there with frankly a pretty severe spin on it.

"I think it is destabilising for the Palestinians, however I think we have got to be big enough and strong enough to say 'OK, look, whatever Al Jazeera are putting out we are just going to get on with making peace'."

On Wednesday, thousands marched in Gaza in Hamas-led protests, accusing Abbas of being a traitor and burning an effigy of him.

During a second rally yesterday Salah Bardawil, a Hamas legislator, told the crowd that "those traitors and anyone who is thinking of compromising any of our rights" should be put on trial.

Many of the leaked documents include details of negotiations in 2008 between Abbas and Israel's leader at the time, Ehud Olmert.

The talks were cut short by Israel's three-week war on Gaza and allegations of corruption against Olmert that eventually forced him from office.