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Oct 23 - 29, 2000

Arafat, Barak reach accord to halt clashes

Israel and the Palestinians agreed at a crisis summit in Egypt on Tuesday to halt a wave of violence that has killed at least 105 people and shaken Middle East peacemaking to the core.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders voiced caution after US President Bill Clinton announced the deal, agreed but not signed by the two parties.

"The proof of the pudding will be in the eating," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said after the close of an often-tense summit in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said on his return to the Gaza Strip that he wanted "an accurate and honest implementation of what has been agreed on".

Clinton's statement, a substitute for earlier plans to draft a document for both sides to sign, brought no quick end to 20 days of unrest in the West Bank, Gaza and Arab towns in Israel.

A Jewish settler shot dead a Palestinian olive-picker and wounded three near the town of Nablus, witnesses said. Police said an Israeli border policeman was critically wounded and two Israelis were hurt in a gunbattle near Al Quds. A Palestinian died of a bullet wound after a clash with soldiers in Gaza.

The violence has destroyed much of the trust that Israel and the Palestinians had built in seven years of talks designed to culminate in a final settlement of their 52-year-old conflict.

Anger and distrust remained so high that Barak and Arafat held no face-to-face talks at the summit, which began on Monday.

A senior US official travelling with Clinton on his way home from the summit in Egypt said the road to peace would be hard. "This will be difficult and we should have no illusion that anybody can wave a magic wand," the official said.

Clinton said the two sides had agreed to halt violence, form an inquiry into its causes and explore a return to peace talks.

Qatar allows 100% foreign stake in some sectors

Qatar has decided to allow foreign investors to fully own projects in some sectors of the economy for the first time in the Gulf Arab state, government officials said on Tuesday.

They said foreigners would also be allowed to lease land for up to 50 years, but not to own land.

Foreigners in Qatar, a small gas-and-oil-rich country, had so far been allowed a maximum 49 per cent stake in projects in ventures with Qatari nationals. The officials said a decree, issued by Crown Prince Sheikh Jassem bin Hamad Al-Thani, allows foreigners to own a 100 per cent stake in projects in agriculture, industry, health, education and tourism.

The decree comes into force after its publication in the weekly official gazette, the officials said.

The opening up of some sectors of Qatar's economy to more foreign investors is in line with similar moves by other Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Oman, keen to attract badly-needed foreign capital to their oil-dependent economies.

"Sectors like banking, insurance, commercial agencies and real estate will continue to remain off-limits to full foreign ownership," a Finance Ministry official told Reuters, adding that any investment must be approved by the ministry.

"The new law is aimed at attracting foreign capital and technology in infrastructure primarily, but also in medium and small scale industries," the official said.

Qatar, a member of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, has set up a chain of gas and petrochemical industries to transform its gas reserves the world's third largest into cash in partnerships with international firms.

It was the first Gulf Arab state to open up its upstream and downstream oil and gas sectors to foreign investors.

Kuwait oil minister lashed over oil sector

A leading Kuwaiti Islamist politician launched a blistering attack against the country's oil minister for allowing the sector to deteriorate and his handling of plans to allow foreign oil majors to return to the country.

MP Nasser Al-Sanea, who has blasted Sheikh Saud Nasser Al-Sabah before, issued a long statement on Friday night criticising the minister, who also heads state-owned Kuwait Petroleum Corp.

Sanea's long attack list included criticism of Sheikh Saud's handling of a proposed $7 billion plan to allow foreign oil majors to operate local fields for the first time in 20 years.

Sanea said the oil sector would top parliament's agenda when it reconvenes on October 28 after a long summer recess.

He called for "a serious stand to hold this minister (Sheikh Saud) accountable...and to lift this sector from the brink it is approaching...His policies have led to this deterioration...we are faced with a dangerous situation.

Oil firm as US stocks shrink, wary of Mideast

World oil prices held firm on Thursday on concerns that low US fuel stockpiles will prove insufficient to keep American homes and offices warm this winter.

Bullish industry data this week showed US oil inventories barely above 24-year lows, leaving the world's biggest energy guzzler vulnerable to a severe cold snap or any disruption to supplies in the next few months.

US benchmark light crude futures gained 14 cents to $33.62 a barrel by 0702 GMT, having settled almost half a dollar higher at $33.48 in New York dealings.

Oil markets are also keeping a wary eye on the Middle East where Israel and the Palestinians began taking steps to halt three weeks of bloodshed under an accord reached on Tuesday in the Egyptian Red Sea resort Sharm el-Sheikh.

Top Saudi oil body given powers of Aramco council

Saudi Arabia announced on Monday that its Supreme Petroleum Council, formed this year to oversee the kingdom's oil policies, would take over the powers of the Higher Council of state oil giant Saudi Aramco.

A statement issued after a cabinet meeting headed by King Fahd said that after "discussing recommendations to amend bylaws of Saudi Aramco in accordance with the formation of the Supreme Petroleum Council, the cabinet decided that the Supreme Petroleum Council would take over the powers of the Higher Council of Aramco".

The cabinet statement was reported by the official Saudi Press Agency. It did not give any other details.

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, set up the Supreme Petroleum Council in January to oversee oil and gas policies. The council is headed by King Fahd.

UN human rights body condemns Israel

The main United Nations human rights forum on Thursday endorsed an Arab-Islamic resolution condemning Israel for "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity" in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The resolution, narrowly adopted at the UN Commission on Human Rights, also sets up a five-member international inquiry into the three weeks of bloodshed.

UN human rights chief Mary Robinson and seven independent UN investigators would also make five-day trips to the region, where at least 107 Palestinians and 'Israeli Arabs' have been killed in three weeks of Al-Aqsa Intifada.

Arab and European diplomats, as well as senior UN human rights officials, said they believed it was the first time that the Commission had condemned the Jewish state on such terms.

The half-century old rights forum regularly condemns Israel for alleged violations in the territories, in southern Lebanon and in the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in 1967.

Arab states to review ties with Israel

Some Arab states called on Thursday for full Palestinian sovereignty over the eastern sector of Al Quds, while others demanded a rupture of all ties with Israel, amid preparations for an emergency Arab summit on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Arab foreign ministers met ahead of the Saturday-Sunday summit, which comes hot on the heels of the US-brokered Sharm el-Sheikh summit that resulted in a truce between Israel and the Palestinians.

GCC states to expand collective force

The Gulf Cooperation Council states have agreed to expand the size of the Peninsula Shield Force now being discussed at the meeting of the GCC defence ministers.

They are working on a detailed mechanism to make the Force a strong deterrent force for ensuring the security of the region.

The composition of the Force is also being worked out currently and would be made known at the end of the meeting.

During a meeting with the GCC ministers on Tuesday, King Fahd called for intensifying efforts to enhance the collective defence capability of the GCC by increasing the size of the Peninsula Shield Force.

The call was reiterated by the Saudi Deputy Defence Minister Prince Abdul Rahman, who was chairing the moot in the absence of the Saudi Defence Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, who is currently on an overseas trip.

Beirut's Hilton rises

A feast was being prepared for the inauguration party of the Beirut Hilton when the civil war erupted in April 1975 and the 400-room hotel found itself in the middle of a battle zone.

Management took out a small advert saying the party was postponed indefinitely. The hotel never opened, turning instead into a looted and burnt-out edifice like the rest of the hotel district along the Mediterranean seafront.

Now, 25 years later, the Saudi-run Societe Mediterraneenne des Grands Hotels has obtained a long-awaited permit to demolish the ruin and build a new 20-storey Hilton at a cost of $70 million.

Oil to fall to $12 if OPEC delays output cut

Oil prices will slump to under $12 a barrel late next year if OPEC spurs a rise in global stockpiles by failing to rein in output early in 2001, the Centre for Global Energy Studies said on Monday.

"OPEC will need to respond to market signals more promptly than it has done in the past if it is to avoid a price collapse in 2001," the London-based centre said in a Monthly Oil Report.

Oil prices will begin to ease once the peak winter demand season draws to a close and OPEC will have to react promptly by cutting output in the first half of 2001, it said.

"Should OPEC fail to reduce output next year, prices will collapse as stocks rise, falling below $12 a barrel on average in the fourth quarter of 2001," it added, referring to an average $11.9 listed in a table of price projections for the fourth quarter 2001.

Russian oil firm to build refinery in UAE

The Russian oil company Rosneftegazstroi has signed a deal worth between $120 million and $150 million to build an oil refinery in the United Arab Emirates with a capacity of up to 50,000 barrels a day.

Ivan Mazur, chief executive of the Russian company, told reporters in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday that the implementation of the refinery project in the UAE's Fujairah emirate would start next year.

He said his company was talking to US companies about supplying equipment for the project.

Beirut Solidere blames state for $2.7m H1 loss

Lebanese real estate firm Solidere on Thursday announced a $2.71 million net loss in the first half of 2000, for which it largely blamed the government.

The company lost $430,000 in the corresponding period last year. It is Lebanon's best-known symbol of reconstruction from the civil war and one of the largest Arab firms open to foreign investors.

Kuwait stock market

The Kuwait Stock Exchange (KSE) crashed to an eight-week low losing 1.7 per cent on the week ending Wednesday on shaken investor confidence, brokers said.

The KSE index closed at 1,403.1 points, a loss of 41 points or 2.8 per cent since the beginning of October.

Kuwait bans livestock imports from UAE

Kuwait announced on Tuesday a temporary ban on the import of livestock from the United Arab Emirates to fight the spread of Rift Valley Fever, which has killed some 146 people in the Arabian Peninsula.

"Kuwait's General Institution for Agriculture and Fish issued an order banning the import of livestocks coming from the Emirates until further notice...as some of them originate from Africa," the official Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) said on Tuesday.

According to official figures, 146 people have died in Yemen and Saudi Arabia since the viral disease broke out last month.

Iraqi delegation to visit Jordan

An Iraqi economic delegation headed by Chairman of Baghdad Commerce Chamber Zuheir Abdul Qafour Younis will visit Jordan on Oct 17 to hold intensive talks with officials at Amman Champer of Commerce.

The visit will focus on ways to further boost cooperation between representatives of Jordanian and Iraqi private sectors and to discuss means to increase the volume of trade between the two countries, said sources of Amman Commerce Chamber.

Employment of nationals

Oman has banned foreigners from selling audio and video cassettes in the Gulf Arab state as part of efforts to ensure more jobs for Omani nationals.

A Labour Ministry statement, carried by the official Omani News Agency on Monday, said foreigners would not be allowed to sell the cassettes from March, 2001.

Refinery close to 200,000 bpd

Kuwait's Mina Al-Ahmadi refinery is producing close to 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) after it was damaged in a huge explosion in June, an official said on Monday.

"The crude distillation unit (CDU 4) is now producing within 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) at Al-Ahmadi refinery which was running at 450,000 bpd before the blast," a marketing official at state-owned Kuwait Petroleum Corp (KPC) told Reuters.

Oman inaugurates huge gas complex

Sultan Qabus inaugurated Saturday a 2.5 billion dollar liquefied natural gas (LNG) complex, a major boost to the Gulf state's economy, the ONA news agency reported.

The complex, at Qalhat, Sour province, 230 kilomtres (140 miles) south of the capital, is intended "to diversify sources of revenue for the sultanate and to develop the national economy," the agency said.

The project, begun by US firm Foster Wheeler in 1996, was on a "global scale," it said.

The firm was officially handed over to Oman LNG on Saturday.