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Blair Urges Israelis and Palestinians to Halt Violence

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to bring an immediate halt to violence in order to pave the way for a return to peace negotiations.

After meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Mr. Blair told reporters in Jerusalem that peace in the Middle East is important for the stability, security and future of the entire world.

The British prime minister said the current cycle of bloodshed has to stop. "All violence must stop. It is impossible to have a peace process succeeding while people are engaging in acts of violence," he said. "It is the responsibility of everyone to do all they can, all that is within their power to stop the acts of violence." Mr. Blair reiterated his support for a Palestinian state that recognizes Israel's right to peace and security.

Prime Minister Sharon has said Israel is ready to make what he called "painful compromises" in peace talks, but that no compromises will be made when it comes to Israel's security. "There is one thing where there is not going to be any compromise, not now and not in the future," he said. "When it comes to the lives or the security of the Israeli citizens, and the very existence of the state of Israel, here there will be no compromises."

Mr. Sharon said he is building a team, which he will lead, to negotiate with the Palestinians once the bloodshed ends.

After meeting with Mr. Sharon, the British prime minister traveled to the Gaza Strip for talks with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. After the meeting, Mr. Arafat said the Palestinians want an end to the violence and to resume peace talks. "I would like to assure you here, now, of our commitment to keep and sustain the cease-fire, our commitment to push forward the peace process and to achieve peace, not only for us but for all the people of this area," he said.

Mr. Blair is on a tour of the Middle East and has visited Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. He called on moderate Muslims not to allow their faith to be hijacked by extremists with a political agenda.

The British prime minister and U.S. officials have been trying to calm the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to win support from Arab and Islamic states for the war against terrorism.