Blair calls for Mideast restraint
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called for "restraint" to allow a "proper initiative" to be mounted to get the Middle East peace process back on track.
"It is important that we do everything that we can to find the way back to a viable peace process," Blair told a joint news conference with his Israeli counterpart, Ariel Sharon, in Jerusalem.
"This cycle of bloodshed has to stop," the British leader said on the second day of a quick-fire Middle East shuttle.
Blair went straight from Jerusalem to Gaza City and into immediate talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Arafat was due to head off to Spain afterward for a conference where he is set to meet Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for the first time in more than a month.
Blair told a news conference with Arafat that both sides have to accept there are two fixed points -- an Israel state confident in its own security and a Palestinian state.
But at some stage there have to be talks, he said.
"The only question is whether the bloodshed stops sooner or later, and I hope it is sooner."
At his news conference with Sharon, Blair was asked about recent killings by Israeli forces of suspected Palestinian militants -- another two men were killed by an Israeli rocket attack Thursday.
The British prime minister said he believed action taken should be "measured and proper in accordance with international law."
"But let us be absolutely clear we are never going to get back into a process again unless the violence and killing everywhere stops," he said.
"What is important to me is that we find the ability to calm this situation to give ourselves the space and the time to put a proper initiative back together again."
But Sharon said that the threat to Israel must first be diminished.
He told reporters: "Israel is committed to peace ... I even said it today, that we are ready for painful compromises.
"There is one thing. There are not going to be any compromises, not now and not in the future, when it comes to the lives or the security of the Israeli citizens, and the very existence of the state of Israel, here, no compromises.
"Now, how can one move forward when terror is going on? So Israel, of course, has the right for self-defense, that's exactly what we are doing."
CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna said Blair had pressed Sharon to withdraw troops from areas of Palestinian-controlled territory they reoccupied after the killing of an Israeli Cabinet minister last month.
Hanna said Sharon maintained it was up to the Palestinian Authority leaders to exercise restraint . He made clear his belief that while he is prepared to go into negotiations with the Palestinians, he would not do so while what he called "Palestinian terror" continued.
Arafat, meanwhile, was telling Blair that Israel was responsible for the continuing violence and while the occupation continued there could be no chance of a workable cease-fire -- the opposite of what Blair had heard from Sharon.
Blair's task in getting the two sides together to implement a cease-fire was "exceedingly difficult, " Hanna said.
Blair flew in to Jerusalem from Amman, Jordan, where he had a working breakfast with Jordan's King Abdullah II.
The drive to restart Middle East peace talks formed part of Blair's mission to shore up Arab support for the U.S.-led war against terrorism.
After meeting the king the British PM said that moderate Arab leaders were taking a stand against militants who had "hijacked" Islam. He said there was a need to remain firm in the international coalition against terrorism.
The British leader's visit to Jordan followed talks with Saudi King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah in Riyadh and with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus.
In Damascus he heard firsthand Arab anger at the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan. At a joint news conference, Assad denounced the air raids for causing "hundreds" of civilian casualties.
It was Blair's first face-to-face confrontation with the controversy caused by the U.S. and British campaign, although aides insisted later he had expected Assad to restate his well-known hostility to the bombing.
While visits to Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan highlighted Arab concerns over civilian casualties in Afghanistan, aides to Blair said they had been a useful means of introducing new impetus into the antiterrorism process.
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