Arab News
July 16, 2008 - 3:20pm§ion=0&article=111874&d=16&m=7&y=2008

RAMALLAH: Tony Blair, the Mideast envoy, yesterday decided not to visit Gaza on the advice of Israel’s Shin Bet Intelligence agency. The visit would have been the first by a top Western diplomat to the Hamas-ruled territory.

The Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the Shin Bet had received information concerning a “very serious” threat to assassinate Blair, which prompted him to cancel his visit to the coastal enclave. Israeli security sources told Haaretz that Israel had not prohibited the visit, but since this was a substantive warning, officials had made certain to immediately pass the information to Blair’s aides in order to keep him safe from harm.

Ruti Winterstein, a spokeswoman for Blair, said the former British prime minister has canceled his trip for security concerns. She cited “specific threats” against Blair, but did not elaborate.

Blair’s visit, was to have included an inspection of infrastructure projects funded by international donations. Relatively unknown terror groups operating in Gaza such as “the Army of Islam” have been linked with Al-Qaeda and other major terrorist groups.

The cancellation will be seen as a blow to both Hamas and Fatah.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement that “the difficulties imposed by the Israeli forces and other sides are responsible for the cancellation of Blair’s visit.”

He added that the “visit was canceled because of pressure by the Israeli forces as “such visits prove the failure of the Israeli policy of blockade.” He quoted Israeli officials as saying that “Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak contacted Blair shortly before the visit was due to start.”

Hamas had made security arrangements for Blair, setting up checkpoints in areas he was expected to tour, banning cars from using roads, and lining streets with black-clad policemen carrying AK-47s.

Since the Hamas takeover, Gaza has been virtually sealed off from the world by Israel and Egypt, a policy that has received tacit international backing.

Blair has said in recent weeks that a new policy toward Gaza needs to be developed, pointing to the growing suffering of Gaza’s people, but has not offered a plan. The options are limited because much of the international community considers Hamas a terrorist group and has shunned its government.

Prior to the visit, Fatah spokesperson Ahmad Abdulrahman welcomed the visit describing it as very important.

“This visit is a message from the Quartet to Hamas offering international aid and support to the Gaza Strip if Hamas initiates an end to the (internal Palestinian) split and is willing to return to national legitimacy as well as adhering to its regional and international commitments,” he said.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017