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Oct 09 - 15, 2000

Preparations underway for Arab summit

Preparations began Thursday for an emergency summit of all Arab heads of state to be held in Cairo on October 23 and 24.

The sources said the summit would include the participation of Iraq, which was excluded from the last meeting, held in Cairo in 1996, because of its invasion of Kuwait six years earlier.

The report came only hours after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called for a summit before the end of this month to discuss "the deteriorating situation in the Palestinian territories." Egyptian Information Minister Safwat el-Sherif quoted Mubarak as saying that "Arab foreign ministers must meet as soon as possible to prepare for an urgent Arab summit, before the end of October, to face up to the deteriorating situation in the Palestinian territories and discuss the future of the peace process." The diplomats said the foreign ministers would meet, as already planned, over the two days that will immediately precede the summit.

One said added that the "consultations will continue, and the date of the summit could be moved forward in light of (potential) developments in the Palestinian territories." Mubarak had spoken Thursday after talks here with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, of which few details were revealed.

In early reactions, officials in Riyadh said Saudi Arabia backed an emergency summit, but added that the kingdom had "received no official invitation" as yet.

"Riyadh supports holding an urgent summit concentrating on the situation in the Palestinian territories, but it is also favourable to an ordinary Arab summit to debate the circumstances of the Arab world," a Saudi official told AFP.

The Sudanese foreign ministry also issued a statement supporting an "immediate" summit, to discuss the situation in the Palestinian territories, and Yemen said it had expressed its approval in written messages to Egypt and the Arab League.

Dubai offers 100% foreign ownership at gold park

Dubai is offering foreign jewellery manufacturers full ownership of their businesses to lure them to a $40 million jewellery park being set up in the emirate, the project manager said on Sunday. Rami Al-Dabbas said real estate firm Emaar Properties has recently signed an agreement with Jebel Ali Free Zone extending benefits enjoyed by investors in the zone to foreigners investing in the park.

"We signed a deal with Jebel Ali Free Zone whereby the Gold and Diamond Park will be part of the free zone, giving companies the same benefits, including 100 per cent ownership," Dabbas said.

Foreign investors in Dubai, one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, currently need a UAE partner to set up business, except at the Jebel Ali Free Zone.

Dubai, a major bullion re-export centre, has been moving towards expanding its jewellery industry in a bid to cash in on expanding tourism into the emirate. Dubai already attracts more than 2.5 million tourists a year.

Dabbas said some 60 local jewellery manufacturers, including major ones Damas and ARY Group, are preparing to move into the first phase of the park comprising one quarter of the scheme built at a cost of 30 million dirhams ($8 million).

When completed, the park will comprise five manufacturing blocks, two office blocks and a visitors centre featuring 30 retail shops.

A total of 120 manufacturing units had been built at the site on the road to Abu Dhabi, where other major projects including the electronic commerce free zone Dubai Internet City, and the West Side Marina housing project are being built.

Dabbas said Emaar Properties has started courting international jewellery manufacturers to set up shop in the second phase of the project. He said a 27-member delegation of German jewellery manufacturers visited the park on Saturday.

He said Dubai offers foreign investors a tax-free environment, low custom duties of four percent and cheap labour costs. Retail price of some products made abroad are cheaper in Dubai than their country of origin, Dabbas said.

Saudi FM to visit Iran

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister will visit Iran on Saturday for talks on the latest Middle East violence which has left more than 70 people dead, the official IRNA news agency said.

Prince Saud al-Faisal will make a two-day visit to discuss the situation with top Iranian officials as well as participate in the third meeting of the two nations' joint political committee, IRNA said.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, current head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), on Wednesday had called for an urgent meeting of the group's foreign ministers to coordinate policy against Israel.

Ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia have improved since the May 1997 election of Khatami, after a long period of hostility following the 1979 revolution.

Arafat, Barak meet to resolve crisis

The Israeli and Palestinian leaders Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak met in Paris on Wednesday in a bid to end the spiralling violence which has brought the Middle East peace process to the brink of collapse.

The talks, which were chaired by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, came against the background of continuing bloodshed in the West Bank and Gaza, with four more Palestinians shot dead by Israeli gunfire on Wednesday.

Meanwhile the United States issued a worldwide alert for US nationals abroad, warning of more possible violent demonstrations in the region.

The Paris negotiations were convened by Albright in order to bring to an end the worst confrontations in at least four years, in which 67 people the vast majority Palestinians have now been killed.

During the day Albright had two bilateral meetings each with Barak and Arafat in an effort to persuade them to meet, with the sticking point being a demand by Arafat for an international commission of enquiry to examine the causes of the bloodshed.

Oil prices slump

Oil prices fell back below 30 dollars a barrel on Thursday after the US government awarded 30 million barrels of crude oil from its strategic petroleum reserve (SPR) to US companies, despite concerns it would experience difficulties selling the oil.

The benchmark Brent North Sea crude oil for November delivery was selling at 29.58 dollars a barrel, against 29.90 dollars at the opening and 30.52 dollars at the close on Wednesday.

"The award of 30 million barrels of crude oil to US companies has been seen as bearish after earlier speculation that the US would find difficulties in selling the oil," said the GNI brokerage.

UN fast-tracks $2b in contracts for Iraq

The UN's Iraqi sanctions committee has approved almost two billion dollars worth of humanitarian contracts under streamlined vetting procedures since March, the United Nations said Tuesday.

It had also fast-tracked 52 contracts worth just over 40 million dollars for spare parts and equipment for Iraq's ailing oil industry, the office administering the oil-for-food programme said in its weekly update.

The office said it had notified the committee of 865 contracts which were approved on a notification basis.

These were in the food, education, medical, agricultural, basic water and sanitation sectors.

The value of humanitarian contracts placed on hold by the committee, meanwhile, rose to 1.89 billion dollars, although the value of oil industry contracts placed on hold fell to 257 million dollars.

"The total value of contracts on hold in all sectors is now just over 2.14 billion dollars," the office said.

Saudi stocks dip slightly

The Saudi stock exchange, the highest capitalised in the Arab world, edged down 0.1 percent on the week to Thursday, as oil prices fell back below 30 dollars a barrel, a financial consultancy said.

The all-shares index of the National Centre for Financial and Economic Information (NCFEI) closed at 2,358.48 points against 2,361.75 a week earlier, according to Bakheet Financial Advisors.

Iraq ready to establish rail link with Turkey

Iraq is prepared to open a rail link with Turkey, running through Syria, a senior Iraqi transport ministry official said Wednesday.

"Iraq is ready to establish a rail link with Turkey for the transport of passengers and goods," the official INA news agency quoted transport and communications ministry under secretary Sabri Kateh as saying.

Salim Oughlou, Turkey's charge d'affaires in Iraq, said after a meeting with Kateh, that his country "fervently hopes that a train can be put on the line between Iraq and Turkey via Syrian territory as soon as possible." A railway connecting Istanbul and Baghdad via Syria was constructed during the Ottoman empire.

Aeroflot to resume flights to Iraq

Russia's Aeroflot air carrier signed a cooperation agreement Monday with Iraqi Airways on resuming flights to Iraq despite an international embargo on air links with Baghdad.

Following a week of negotiations, delegations from Aeroflot and Iraqi Airways signed the memorandum which provides for the opening of offices in both countries, an Aeroflot spokesman said.

Syria plans to create 440,000 jobs

Syria's cabinet has adopted a plan to create 440,000 jobs within the next five years at a total cost of 50 billion Syrian pounds ($1.08 billion), officials said on Sunday.

They said the plan, designed for people aged between 18 and 24 years, includes training programmes for the employees in all sectors and providing individuals with soft loans to create their own enterprises.

According to the timetable, adopted at the cabinet's last session on Tuesday, 50,000 jobs would be created during the first year starting October 1.

ABC in $230 m loans

Bahrain-based Arab Banking Corp (ABC) is arranging two loans worth $230 million for two banks in Egypt and Bahrain, a senior bank official said on Monday.

ABC, together with five international banks, is arranging a $150 million loan for Commercial International Bank of Egypt, the official said.

He said $100 million of the loan would mature in three years and carry an annual margin of 57.5 basis points over London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). The remaining $50 million would mature in five years and carry a margin of 62.5 basis points over LIBOR.

Other arrangers of the facility are Bank Gesellschaft Berlin AG, Barclays, Commerzbank AG, Fuji Bank Ltd and Sumitomo Bank Ltd.

The official said ABC, the Arab world's largest bank, was also arranging a three-year $80 million loan for Bahrain International Bank.

Iran boosts oil production

Iran increased its daily oil output by 116,800 barrels per day (bpd) Sunday, in keeping with recent decisions by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countires, the daily Entekhob said.

The daily output is now 3,843,800 bpd, up from 3,727,000, the paper said.

It also quoted central bank statistics showing its average daily output for the first three months of the Iranian year which started March 21 was 3.637 million bpd of which 2.5 million went to export.

Iran, OPEC's second biggest producer, sends 60 per cent of its oil exports to Asia, and the remainder to Europe and Africa, chiefly South Africa.

Jordan, EC sign e-commerce agreements

Amman Chamber of Industry (ACI) and the European Commission in Amman, Sunday signed three E-Commerce related projects contracts whereby the EC offers 200 thousand Euro to help finance the projects under the Development of Business Association components of the Euro-Jordanian Business Service Team (BST).

The three agreements were signed by ACI Chairman Othman Bedeir, Head of the European Delegation in Amman James Moran, Chairman of Information Technology Association of Jordan (INTAJ) and Poul Gaderaard, Euro-Jordanian Business Service Team Project Manager.

The three agreement aim to develop e-commerce sector in Jordan and to support the establishment of an ACI e-commerce center to serve as a nucleus for e-commerce centers in business associations in the Kingdom.

Cairo shares hit low

Egypt's benchmark Hermes Financial Index of shares hit a low of more than four years on Sunday.

The benchmark Hermes Index closed down 239 points, or 3.2 per cent, to a new low of 7,237.66 not seen since July 1996.

The broader CIBC index lost 0.95 points, or 1.23 per cent, to a new life low of 76.35. Prime's Pami index shed 230 points, or 3.1 per cent, to a new life low of 7,291.5.

Egyptian pound sinks

The Egyptian pound has lost 10 per cent of its value against the dollar in the last six months, with its slide especially sharp in September, financial sources said Sunday. The pound dropped from 3.48 to the dollar in April to 3.62 at the end of August before sliding to 3.87 on October 1, according to exchange bureau rates quoted by the EFG-Hermes financial house. The Egyptian currency has traditionally been pegged to the greenback at 3.4 to the dollar.

New Egyptian gas price terms to save $250 m

The Egyptian government has negotiated amendments to the gas clauses in its concession agreements with international oil companies, according to the Middle East Economic Digest report (MEED).

The amendments should result in an annual saving of at least $250 million for the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC), Petroleum Minister Sameh Fahmy announced on 18 September, the report said.

Industry sources say the deal negotiated with the main operating companies involves altering the gas pricing formula so that both parties are protected from the effects of wild fluctuations in world energy prices, MEED reported.