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Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS AP) – The key international Mideast mediators will confer with former British prime minister Tony Blair for the first time next week in his new role promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the U.N. said Friday.
Top officials from the Quartet – the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia – will meet on July 19 in Lisbon, Portugal, U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.
“The meeting comes at a crucial moment and will be an opportunity to assess the recent events and discuss the way forward to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East,” she said.
“In particular, the Quartet principals will confer with the Quartet representative, Tony Blair, on how best to assist the Palestinian Authority in building its institutions and economy, which are vital for the creation of a viable Palestinian state,” Okabe said.
Hours after Blair stepped down as prime minister on June 27, the Quartet appointed him with a mandate to focus on mobilizing international support and assistance for the Palestinians, a job that will be even tougher now because of the sharp divide between Hamas, which wrested control of the Gaza Strip in early June, and Fatah, which controls the West Bank.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who will attend next week’s Quartet meeting, is increasingly concerned about the economic impact for Gaza and called for the opening of all crossings to allow humanitarian supplies and workers and commercial goods to enter the territory, Okabe said.
She said new World Bank figures showed that last month 3,190 businesses closed down, forcing 65,000 people into unemployment.
“If what is left of Gaza’s economy is allowed to collapse, poverty levels, already affecting an estimated two-thirds of households, will rise further and the people of Gaza will become near totally aid dependent,” Okabe said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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