Protester assails Blair in Palestinian mosque

Tue Oct 20, 2009 12:52pm EDT

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(Adds Blair spokesman, paragraphs 5, 8)

HEBRON, West Bank, Oct 20 (Reuters) - Bodyguards subdued a Palestinian man on Tuesday as he approached Middle East envoy Tony Blair, shouting "You are a terrorist."

The former British prime minister was verbally assailed while visiting an ancient mosque during an official trip to the West Bank city of Hebron.

The protester, carrying a bag, was backed into a corner by guards who tried to shut him up. "He is not welcome in the land of Palestine," the struggling man shouted.

Blair, 56, is envoy for the "Quartet" of powers on the Middle East, comprising the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations.

He gave a tight-lipped smile and a pacifying wave in the general direction of the shouting man, and afterwards played down the incident as a "protest and that's fair enough", but not one that should be viewed as typical of local feelings.

Most Palestinians and Israelis want the conflict "resolved in a peaceful way", he said. They understand "it's not going to be resolved unless we find a way of creating two states, a state of Israel and a state of Palestine side by side in peace."

"Frankly it's not protests that will do that. It's patient negotiation," Blair told reporters.

A spokesman for the envoy told Reuters it was unclear why the protester launched his attack on Blair. "We've heard nothing on that," he said.

Blair's Hebron hosts were upset by the security breach. He remains unpopular with some Arabs for supporting the 2003 United States invasion of Iraq and for what they perceive as his bias in favour of Israel when he was Britain's prime minister.

"You know, he made his protest and that's fair enough," Blair told reporters once the man was removed. "I think it's important for you guys as well to not always mistake the protest for the general view of the whole population," he said. (Reporting by Reuters TV; writing by Douglas Hamilton; editing by Jon Boyle)

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