Lisbon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Expectation is mounting in Lisbon today for the next meeting of the Mideast Quartet—United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia—, which should see former British Prime Minister Tony Blair debut as special envoy. It will be the first opportunity for the parties to meet since Hamas wrestled Gaza away from the Palestinian National Authority and show their support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are expected to attend.
The summit is taking place at a particular important juncture. On Monday, US President George W. Bush proposed that an international conference be held later this fall, aimed at restarting peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, saying it was a moment of choice in the Middle East.
Talks between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and moderate Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this week brought promises of a release of 256 Palestinian prisoners and an agreement to support Fatah and Palestinian moderates.
Also for weeks possible talks between Israel and Syria have been the object of much speculation. Israeli Science, Sport and Culture Minister Ghaleb Majadele told Haaretz on Wednesday that he had asked Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to send him to Damascus as a goodwill emissary.
Parallel to the flurry of diplomatic activities, Karen AbuZayd, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), warned that the situation is increasingly worrisome for the population of Gaza since Hamas took over.
At least 68,000 Palestinians have lost their jobs in an area where 85 per cent of the private sector labour force is unemployed. Thousands of factories have closed as imports and exports have halted.
Ms AbuZayd, who called on Mr Blair to visit Gaza to see the problem for himself, warned that if Israel’s blockade after the Hamas takeover continues, all 1.4 million residents of the Gaza Strip will become dependent on international aid.