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Tony Blair Cancels Gaza Visit After Threats

Tony Blair Cancels Gaza Visit After ThreatsTony Blair today cancelled a planned visit to Gaza in his role as Middle East peace envoy after what his spokeswoman described as threats made against him.

The planned trip would have been the highest-level diplomatic mission to the territory since the militant Hamas group seized control of it a year ago.

Ruti Winterstein, Blair's spokeswoman, said the visit had been called off because of "specific threats" against the former prime minister, giving no further details.

Blair had been expected to meet traders and inspect a sewage project being built with international funds. He had not been due to meet any officials from Hamas, viewed by Israel, the US and EU as a terrorist organisation.

UN officials in Gaza told Reuters Blair still hoped to visit the territory in the future, although no new date had been set.

Before the visit Hamas said it was making "all the necessary security arrangements". Although the group has largely pacified the strip, several other small militant groups are believed to still operate there.

Hamas, which won Palestinian elections in 2006, hoped Blair's presence would mark an end to its complete ostracism by western nations. In June last year Hamas pushed the more moderate Fatah movement of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, out of Gaza.

The trip was due to come nearly a month after an Egyptian-brokered truce largely ended cross-border fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants.

The quartet of powers involved in Middle East peace efforts - the US, EU, Russia and the UN - appointed Blair as envoy a year ago with a particular focus on economic reconstruction.

Thus far most of the projects promoted by Blair have been designed for the West Bank, where Fatah are still in control.

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