British premier proposes Mideast conference

West Bank – Visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair offered Wednesday to host a Mideast conference to help rehabilitate the battered Palestinian Authority, encourage reform and serve as a bridge to renewed peace talks, stalled by four years of violence.

Blair, the highest-ranking visitor to the West Bank since Yasser Arafat’s death, said a growing sense of hope must now be translated into action, while endorsing Israel’s precondition for peace talks – an end to Palestinian attacks – and the Palestinian goal of an independent state.

Despite Blair’s peace push, violence continued Wednesday. Israeli troops entered the Khan Younis refugee camp in southern Gaza after midnight for the second time in a week, trying to stop militants from firing rockets and mortars at nearby Israeli settlements and army bases.

As Israeli bulldozers flattened damaged structures, soldiers exchanged fire with Palestinians, killing three, including two gunmen, Palestinian security officials said.

After nightfall, Palestinians said the Israelis were pulling out of the camp. The military said a redeployment was in progress.