Hamas spokesman says Tony Blair to visit Gaza this week
Quartet's Mideast envoy to make first visit to Strip since Hamas' violent takeover last summer.
Tony Blair will visit the Gaza Strip this week, a Hamas spokesman said Monday, in what will be the Mideast envoy's first trip to the coastal territory since the Islamic group violently seized control a year ago.
Blair, who represents the Quartet of international peacemakers - the European Union, United Nations, the United States and Russia - is expected to meet with traders and inspect a northern Gaza waste water project being built with international funds, said Palestinian businessmen and officials familiar with his itinerary. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the visit has not been officially announced.
They said it was unlikely that Blair would meet with officials from Hamas, which is committed to Israel's destruction and is considered a terrorist group by the U.S., European Union and Israel.
The international community does not recognize Hamas' Gaza government, and officials fear any visit could be construed as approval.
Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan said his group would make security arrangements for Blair's visit. Radwan said in a statement text-messaged to reporters that the envoy's visit would be brief.
He did not say whether Blair would meet with Hamas.
Palestinian officials declined to specify the day Blair will arrive, citing security concerns. Although the once-lawless Gaza has been mostly pacified under Hamas' stern rule, there are still fears that shadowy extremist groups may try kidnap foreigners entering Gaza.
Blair's office would not comment on the trip.
Government spokesman Mark Regev declined to comment directly on a Blair visit to Gaza but said Israel supported Blair's work. "We believe that trying to build more healthy Palestinian institutions to encourage the growth of the Palestinians economy is good for the Palestinians and for Israel," he said.
The former British prime minister is trying to revive the struggling Palestinian economy to lay the groundwork for a future independent Palestinian state.