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Blair urges Mideast engagement

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- The international community should restore contacts with a future Palestinian unity government if it breaks with the current policies of the Hamas-led administration, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Sunday.

"I believe that such a government, based on the Quartet requirements, does offer the possibility of re-engagement by the international community," Blair said in a joint news conference in Ramallah with moderate Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas -- considered a terrorist organization by Britain, the United States and Israel -- is trying to form a unity government that includes members of Abbas' Fatah party, which it defeated in January.

A Hamas spokesman immediately responded to Blair's comments, saying the ruling party wants a national unity government that will be compatible with the interest of the Palestinian people, not with external interests.

Hamas wants to "lift the siege" from the Palestinian people and government but not at the expense of its rights, spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told CNN.

The Quartet of Middle East peace brokers, comprised of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, has boycotted the Hamas-led government since they came to power. The Quartet has insisted Hamas recognize the state of Israel, end violence and accept past interim peace deals.

However, Hamas has resisted global pressure and calls by Abbas to moderate its stance on Israel, which it refuses to recognize.

Meanwhile, Abbas said he would travel to Gaza later in the day to continue efforts to form a joint administration.

"I can say we are serious in forming a government of national unity that will end the siege imposed on our people and end the pain and suffering of our people," Abbas said.

The Palestinian president said he and Blair discussed in closed-door talks ways to attract the national and international region's support and end the current crisis.

Blair, who planned to visit Lebanon later Sunday, earlier met Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for closed-door talks in Jerusalem.

Olmert restated their commitment to advancing the political process to secure a Middle East peace, with Olmert offering to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas -- without conditions -- but with the goal of obtaining the release of two Israeli soldiers in Hezbollah custody.

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Blair and Olmert restated their commitment to help secure lasting peace in the Middle East.



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