Prime Minister Ehud Olmert landed at Heathrow Airport Sunday ahead of his scheduled meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Olmert’s UK visit comes on the heels of the Gaza beachfront explosion, apparently caused by IDF artillery fire; seven members of a Palestinian family were killed in the blast.
The British media and government, headed by British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, launched a scathing attack against Israel following the incident.
British ambassador to Israel Simon McDonald, who is accompanying Olmert, said the prime minister’s meetings are expected to focus on the realignment plan, adding that Blair believes Israel must first conduct negotiations with the Palestinians.
During his meeting with Blair, scheduled for 3:30 at Downing 10 Street, Olmert will present Israel’s version of the Gaza beach incident while stressing the fact that it remains unclear whether Israel is responsible.
“We are investigating the incident, and on Tuesday we will have the conclusions,” Olmert told reporters. “In any case, I have expressed Israel’s regret over the incident.”
'Blair remains a friend of Israel'
During his UK visit Olmert will also emphasize his position that Israel cannot be held responsible for the security situation in communities surrounding the Gaza Strip.
“We withdrew from Gaza unilaterally,” the prime minister is expected to tell Blair, “but it is the Palestinians who established a terrorist government that backs the continuation of Qassam rocket fire on Israel. Israel has a right to defend itself. We are acting with caution and restraint to prevent incidents similar to that which occurred on Friday.”
The British media are for the most part ignoring Olmert’s visit due to the World Cup soccer tournament in Germany, and efforts by Israeli embassy personnel to set up a meeting between Olmert and the editor of The Guardian were futile.
“Despite everything, Blair remains a friend of Israel, and this visit is aimed at strengthening the ties between the countries,” a member of Olmert’s entourage said.
On Tuesday Olmert is scheduled to leave the UK for France, where he is expected to meet with President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.