ISRAEL-GAZA BORDER, (Reuters) – A security threat forced Middle East envoy Tony Blair to cancel a trip to the Gaza Strip on Tuesday that would have marked the highest-level diplomatic visit since Hamas took control, a spokesman said.
“Unfortunately Mr Blair has had to postpone his visit to Gaza due to a specific security threat which would have made it impossible to proceed,” a spokesman for the former British prime minister said of the last-minute decision. He said Blair hoped to visit the territory, which Hamas seized a year ago, at a later date. He had been expected to tour an internationally funded development project.
An Israeli diplomatic source said Blair was informed by Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak “that there was a threat that could materialise as he entered the Gaza Strip”.
A Hamas spokesman accused Israel of pressuring Blair to cancel a visit that “would have meant the failure of the siege on Hamas in the Gaza Strip”. Hamas officials said earlier the group had taken measures to ensure his safety.
Blair had not planned to meet any Hamas leaders. That decision was in line with a U.S.-led boycott of the group over its refusal to recognise Israel and renounce violence after it won elections in 2006, Palestinian and Western officials said.
The Quartet of international mediators — the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — appointed Blair to the envoy post a year ago with an economic focus to bolster chances for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal this year.
Members of Blair’s staff arrived at Israel’s Erez Crossing with the Gaza Strip in the morning and waited for two hours before the cancellation was announced. Blair was not with them.
A security detail had crossed into the territory to prepare for the visit. Hamas security forces kept out of sight and at a distance from the border terminal.
Blair last visited the Gaza Strip as British premier in 1998.