Blair not greeted well on Mideast visit
Regional-UK, Politics, 9/11/2006
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was flying to the Middle East Saturday amid much skepticism about the purpose and efficacy of his declared peace mission.
Blair, who is under growing domestic pressure to bring forward his resignation, has already been shunned by Hizbullah in Lebanon and the Hamas-led Palestinian government due to his support for Israel's discriminate bombing of Lebanon and Gaza.
On Thursday, hundreds of Palestinian intellectuals and politicians published a petition in al-Ayyam newspaper, declaring the British premier as a 'persona non grata' from visiting the occupied territories because he had 'blood on his hands.' Press reports suggested that Blair's only major meeting would be with his Israeli counterpart Ehud Olmert on Saturday and talks with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Sunday.
The Guardian daily said that even his advisers are "skeptical" about his chances in the short term of persuading the Palestinian and Israeli governments to reopen peace negotiations.
The Scotsman said that British prime minister faced "overwhelming odds and low expectations" as he heads to the Middle East this weekend.
"Blair's standing dropped at home and abroad when he refused, along with the US president George Bush to call for an immediate ceasefire in the July-August war between Israel and Hizbullah," it said.
If the British premier is seeking a legacy after pledging to step down from power within the next 12 months, he is "likely to find only apathy among Israelis and scorn among Arabs, who widely regard him as Washington's puppet," the Times newspaper said.
The daily said British officials were "playing down hopes, saying that there are unlikely to be any big initiatives" but also insisted it is important to keep alive the peace process.
It reported that there has been little advance coverage about Blair's visit in Jerusalem saying Israel's media were "preferring to tear apart their own Government over the Lebanon conflict, accusing it of being too soft." "Indeed, Mr Blair and his equally war-damaged Israeli counterpart Ehud Olmert could spend much of tonight's planned meeting comparing hostile column inches," the Times suggested.
In Lebanon, he was shunned and protested on his visit there. The Washignton Post reported today that "About 2,000 Lebanese protested against Blair's visit, accusing him of backing Israel's 34-day war with the Shiite Muslim guerrillas, and several ministers refused to meet him."
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