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Tony Blair calls on Hamas to stop firing rockets, says Israel will continue to defend itself

Last modified: 15 Nov 2012 20:56

Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair called on Hamas on Thursday to stop firing rockets from Gaza into Israel, saying that as long as it continued the Jewish state would act to defend itself.

"If the rocket fire carries on out of Gaza, targeted at Israeli towns and villages, then the retaliation will increase," the former British prime minister told Sky News television in London.

Seven Palestinians and three Israelis were killed on Thursday in a wave of unrelenting cross-border fighting as the Jewish state launched a vast air offensive on Gaza which began with the killing of a Hamas commander on Wednesday.

"There are roughly a million people who take shelter every night (in Israel). There's no government where its citizens are under that pressure that isn't itself going to come under pressure to take action," Blair said.

"Likewise I understand the pressures on the Hamas leadership but the answer to those pressures I'm afraid is not to keep firing rockets. It's to find a different and better way forward."

Blair, who represents the diplomatic Quartet comprising the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia, said the immediate priority was to calm the situation to stop it destabilising the region.

"You've got massive instability everywhere. The last thing we need is for a dispute that is always highly flammable to flare into even greater conflict....Right now the absolute priority is to get the situation calm," he said.

Blair added that such a crisis inevitably caused world leaders to issue stock responses in support of Israel or the Palestinians, but expressed hope that key players were privately taking a more pragmatic approach.

"What people will say in this situation is what you understand they've got to say from the position of their own politics. But I hope and believe behind the scenes there are people trying to resolve this and to calm it," he said.

"If there isn't, and it escalates, we will face a grave situation right across the region."

Blair referred specifically to Egypt, whose prime minister will visit Gaza on Friday to express his country's solidarity with the Hamas-ruled territory.

"Egypt has got a massive strategic interest in calming this.... If it's possible for Egypt to play a constructive role I'm sure it will in this situation," Blair said.

- Agence France Presse