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Blair seeks religious leader unity on Jerusalem

 






WASHINGTON —
Former British Prime Minister and Middle East envoy Tony Blair called Wednesday
for a joint appeal by Jerusalem’s religious leaders on keeping the holy city
open to all faiths even as tensions flare.

Blair,
speaking at a forum on religious understanding at Georgetown University, said it was crucial to recognize and address
the religious dimension of the Middle East conflict.

“One
of the things we’ve been trying to organize is a statement by the rabbinate and
the Christian leaders and the Muslim leaders about Jerusalem and about
Jerusalem being an open city or worship for people of all the Abrahamic
faiths,” Blair said.

“Unless
we’re prepared to recognize that dimension and to act upon it, then I think
that we fail in our duty,” he said.

Blair
serves as the envoy for the so-called Quartet on the Middle East peace process
– the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

He
was due later Wednesday to hold talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
on the latest developments in the region, which US special envoy George
Mitchell is now visiting.

Tensions
have run high since Sunday when Israeli authorities closed the Al-Aqsa mosque
compound, saying that people were inciting violence.

Blair
said the Middle East reminded him of Northern Ireland, where a 1998 deal
brokered by Mitchell largely ended three decades of strife pitting Catholics
against pro-British Protestants and British forces.

“They
say to me, ‘It’s not really about religion, you know. It’s about
politics’,” Blair said of discussions in the two places.

“I
say, that’s fine. Unfortunately, a lot of people involved in the conflict think
it’s about religion. And so you can’t actually separate out the religious
dimension from the conflict,” he said.

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