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Blair's First Meeting With Middle East 'Quartet' Set for Lisbon

The United States and its partners in the international Quartet trying to encourage peace between the Palestinians and Israel will meet in Portugal next week with the group's new representative, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and representatives of the European Union and Russia will be meeting for the first time with Blair in his role as envoy. The former British leader was appointed by the Quartet less than three weeks ago, on the same day he stepped down in London.

The talks in Lisbon on July 19 also are the first Quartet meeting since last month's upheaval in the Palestinian territories - bitter fighting between Hamas and Fatah, a takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas, and appointment of a new government by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

A UN spokeswoman says the Lisbon meeting comes at "a crucial moment," giving the major powers a chance to assess the recent events and see how their joint action can advance the cause of peace.

Lisbon was chosen as the site of the Quartet's talks since Portugal has just assumed the EU's rotating presidency.

Blair's role as the international group's Middle East envoy is intended to promote the Palestinians' economic development, by raising funds and helping them build governmental institutions.

The U.N. spokeswoman says Secretary-General Ban is increasingly concerned about the economic impact of the recent turmoil in Gaza, most of whose population already is living in poverty.

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