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Former British PM Blair Visits Gaza Strip


Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited the Gaza Strip for a second time as international Mideast envoy Monday, two years after Hamas seized power in the poverty-stricken territory.

Mr. Blair said the world must focus on the "genuine humanitarian concerns" in Gaza, emphasizing that the local Palestinians are in a "tough situation."

Israel and Egypt have blockaded Gaza for the past two years, a move Israel says is critical to the safety of the Israeli people.

In another development, the European Union and the United States say the Israeli prime minister's conditional endorsement of a Palestinian state is an important step toward peace in the Middle East.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the first time entertained the goal of creating a Palestinian state, with strict conditions, in a policy speech delivered Sunday.

Mr. Netanyahu says he would accept a Palestinian state as long as it has no military force and recognizes Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rdainah, denounced Mr. Netanyahu's speech as "sabotaging" peace efforts.

But the EU and the U.S. separately said Mr. Netanyahu's discussion of Palestinian statehood is a step forward.

The EU and the U.S., along with Russia and the United Nations, are members of the so-called "Quartet" of international partners involved in mediation efforts in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, added Monday that a number of elements in Mr. Netanyahu's policy speech need to be analyzed.

In Washington Sunday, a White House statement said President Barack Obama welcomed Mr. Netanyahu's endorsement of a two-state solution.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP.

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