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Palestinian prime minister attacks Blair policies

Written by: Staff
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GAZA, Sep 9 (Reuters) Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas accused British Prime Minister Tony Blair today of ''one-sided'' policies that have punished the Palestinian people and their elected government.

Haniyeh, in a column in Britain's Guardian newspaper ahead of Blair's visit to the region, said there were signs that ''the British public is unhappy about what Blair's government has been doing to our people''.

''The problem has been the unquestioning attachment of Tony Blair's government to the Clinton and then Bush administrations, which have seen the Middle East through Israeli eyes only,'' Haniyeh said.

When he visits Israel and Palestinian areas this weekend, Blair is expected to push Israel to revive talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction was trounced by Hamas in parliamentary elections in January.

Downing Street has said only that Blair will visit the Middle East shortly.

''Is this a public relations exercise as he enters his last days of premiership, or is he bringing some new initiative to break the deadlock created by his and his friend's policies?'' Haniyeh asked in the newspaper column.

Blair, who has ruled for nearly a decade, said on Thursday that he would resign within a year but refused to set a precise date for his departure.

Haniyeh said Blair's visit to the region could have been an opportunity for face-to-face talks with democratically elected Hamas leaders. But Haniyeh said ''that is not possible since (Blair's) government has decided not to recognise mine.'' Britain has backed a Western aid boycott of the Hamas-led government, preventing it from paying salaries to 165,000 workers since March. Partial payments have been made in recent months using funds from European and Arab donors.

Haniyeh said Blair's policies amounted to ''collective punishment'' of the Palestinian people and gave a green light to Israel to take military action.

Israel launched an offensive in Gaza after militants seized an Israeli soldier in a cross-border raid on June 25. An estimated 210 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, have been killed.

Haniyeh accused Blair of caring more about freeing three captured Israeli soldiers -- one held by Gaza militants and two by Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon -- than about the fate of Hamas government ministers, Hamas lawmakers and thousands of other Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

''The arrest of these ministers and MPs -- five ministers, 33 MPs, including my deputy and the speaker of the legislative council -- is a violation of the most fundamental principles of democracy, but this appears to be immaterial to Mr. Blair,'' Haniyeh said.

Blair has come under fire at home during Israel's 34-day war with Hizbollah for lining up with the United States in refusing to back Lebanon's demands for an immediate truce.

REUTERS PDM PM1748

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