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Nov 20 - 26, 2000

Muslim states asked to snap ties with Israel

The world's Muslim leaders on Monday "invited" Islamic countries to break ties with Israel and expressed their "total confidence" in the Palestinian leadership, in a final declaration at a summit in Doha.

Leaders of the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) "invite member states that have relations with Israel or that have taken measures toward the establishment of such relations as part of the peace process to break them."

OIC Secretary General Ezzedin Laraki said the "document on the Al-Aqsa intifada (uprising) and the independence of Palestine" had been approved and awaited only the formal signing by the members.

The Muslim leaders, in the statement, also "express their total confidence in the Palestinian people and their PLO leadership" and hail the uprising against Israel that has cost 217 lives, most of them Arab, over the past six weeks.

Delegates said the term "requests" for the cut in ties was watered down to "invites" at the insistence of African member countries, several of which have ties with the Jewish state.

In another wrangle over wording, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's name was dropped from the voice of confidence in the leadership of the Palestinians at Syria's urging, the delegates said.

Damascus was a fierce opponent of the 1993 Palestinian autonomy accords, accusing Arafat of breaking ranks by making a separate peace with Israel.

Speaking at a special session devoted to the intifada on the opening day of the OIC summit, Iraq's second-in-command Ezzat Ibrahim joined the call for a break with Israel.

"The minimum expected of us ... is to put a halt to any relations with the Zionist enemy," said Ibrahim, delivering a message from President Saddam Hussein, who has not travelled abroad since the 1991 Gulf war.

Oman to diversify economy through gas exploration

Oman aims to step up exploration to boost its proven gas reserves as a platform for diversifying its economy, Omani Oil Minister Mohammad bin Hamad Al-Rumhy said on Wednesday.

Rumhy told Reuters training national manpower was a priority in the Gulf Arab state's efforts to develop new industries.

"The ministry of oil and gas is determined to increase our proven gas reserve by increasing investments in gas exploration.

And with the current gas exploration programme that targets the addition of one to 1.5 tcf (trillion cubic feet) per year, we would book more gas than we would consume.

"Oman may not have as substantial reserves in oil and gas as its neighbours, but it certainly has enough to support a good platform for oil and gas-based industries," Rumhy said.

The sultanate is a non-OPEC oil producer pumping 850,000 barrels a day. It has proven gas reserves of 22 trillion tcf and unproven reserves of 45 tcf. In 1999, oil and gas revenues made up about 70 per cent of state income.

The minister said gas exploration could provide a platform for planned new industries, which officials have said included projects worth 2.65 billion rials ($6.88 billion) in the next 10 years to produce aluminium, methanol, urea fertiliser, silicon and ferrochrome.

"We are pushing all companies in the oil and gas sectors to develop their know-how by training their young workforce so that one day, not far in the future, we will hopefully create more wealth from this know-how than from our finite natural resources," Rumhy said.

Foreign workers make up about a quarter of Oman's population of 2.3 million people.

"However, I am aware that we need to work very hard to establish this knowledge-based economy that adds value and offer other value-adding concepts that will make it attractive for investors both local and international," he said.

European Union calls for Palestinian state

The European Union on Thursday called for the creation of a "sovereign, democratic Palestinian state ... in the near future", according to a final statement concluding a Euromed meeting here.

Concluding a tense two-day meeting of the EU states and their southern Mediterranean partners, the 15 EU nations voiced their "support for the Palestinians' right to their own state."

The said such a sovereign Palestinian state, "democratic, viable and peaceful," should be created in "the near future, preferably by negotiation."

Israel must learn to live on an equal footing with the Arabs and should stop trying to grab land, a top adviser to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Thursday.

Israel "must realize that it has to live on an equal footing with the Palestinians insofar as rights and obligations go," said Osama el-Baz, cited by the official news agency MENA.

US in fresh bid to quell unrest in ME

A Palestinian was killed and an Israeli army patrol was bombed on Thursday as the United States and Russia, the two chief sponsors of the Middle East peace process, stepped up diplomatic efforts to stem the tide of blood washing.

US Middle East troubleshooter Dennis Ross and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov held talks with the major players, one day after Israel bombed West Bank targets, including the offices of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and announced a cutoff in all funds to the Palestinians.

One more Palestinian was killed on Thursday, an 18-year-old shot in the chest by Israeli soldiers near Al Khalil in southern West Bank, hospital sources said.

His death brings to 234 the number of Palestinians killed in seven weeks of intifada.

Libya seeks foreign investments

Libya is looking to local and foreign private investors to take on a larger role in its $35-billion, five-year development plan as it continues to liberalise its state-run economy, government officials said on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Mubarak Abdullah Al-Shamikh and eight other cabinet ministers stressed that Libya was determined to open up its long-isolated economy to the free market.

The ministers spoke at a government-sponsored foreign investment conference, the first of its kind in Libya. The two-day event on Tuesday and Wednesday gathered representatives from more than 270 foreign companies, mainly from Europe but also from Japan, Canada and South Africa.

Abu Dhabi launches second hi-tech stock market

The United Arab Emirates launched Wednesday its second hi-tech financial market, the Abu Dhabi Securities Market (ADSM), officials said.

The market, opened in the presence of senior Emirati officials by Sheikh Sultan al-Nahyan, chairman of Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce, saw only two small trades during its first session.

The ADSM, which opened last week to allow companies to register ahead of the official start date, currently has eight licensed brokers and 13 listed companies, officials said.

It will be linked electronically to the Dubai Financial Market (DFM), which was launched in March, and form a single market. Bourse officials gave no time frame for the link-up.

President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahayan issued a decree in February establishing a stock exchange in the United Arab Emirates, the last of the oil-rich Gulf states to open a formal bourse.

ARIG net loss

Arab Insurance Group (ARIG) said on Wednesday it made a net loss of $52.6 million in the first nine months of 2000 compared with a net loss of $17.1 million in the same period last year.

Foreign investments

OPEC member Libya expects $10 billion in foreign investments in oil and gas exploration over the next 10 years, the acting head of the state oil company said.

National Oil Company (NOC) Acting Chairman Ahmed Abdel-Karim unveiled details of the long-term plan at a government-sponsored foreign investment conference, the first of its kind in Libya.

Abdel-Karim, addressing delegates on Tuesday night, said NOC was negotiating with several foreign companies and he expected some oil and gas exploration deals to be signed in the next few months.

Saudi industrial sector grew

Saudi Arabia's industrial sector recorded growth of 5.5 per cent in 1999, while industrial investments totalled more than 60 billion dollars, Saudi Industry Minister Hisham bin Abdullah Al-Yamani said Tuesday.

"During 1999, the Saudi industrial sector had growth of 5.5 per cent ... while investments in industrial projects totalled 64 billion dollars up to the year 2000," Yamani said in a statement from the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC).

He said that the value of Saudi industrial products, mainly petrochemicals, reached 22 billion dollars in 1999, of which around a quarter represented the kingdom's industrial exports.

"The contribution of the industrial sector to gross domestic product (GDP) has risen from five per cent in 1980 to 10 per cent in the year 2000 ... and should reach 20 per cent over the next 20 years," the Saudi minister added.

Kuwait blames West for high fuel prices

Kuwait lashed out at Western oil consuming nations on Tuesday for high fuel costs and staunchly defended OPEC's efforts to calm soaraway crude prices.

OPEC had been unfairly blamed for high prices while consuming nations had been quietly reaping most of the reward through high taxation, Kuwaiti Oil Minister Sheikh Saud Nasser Al-Sabah told an annual oil and gas conference in London.

OPEC agreed on Monday to leave crude oil output unchanged for the moment.

The group has hiked output by 3.7 million barrels per day (bpd) so far this year in a bid to calm overheated oil prices which recently hit 10 year highs.

Iran says Syria repays $500m in debt

Syria has paid $500 million of debt to Iran, Tehran's finance minister Hossein Namazi was quoted as saying in the Hayat-e No newspaper on Monday.

Syria owed Iran some one billion dollars dating back to the 1980s when Tehran sold oil to Damascus on easy credit terms in return for diplomatic backing in Iran's eight-year war with Iraq.

In 1998, Iran agreed to write off interest arrears of $500 million and reschedule another $500 million of debt over 10 years.

The latest repayment appears to have wiped clean that debt.

OPEC chief

Venezuelan oil minister Ali Rodriguez will take over as OPEC's new secretary general from January next year, Qatar's oil minister Abdullah Al-Attiyah said Sunday.

Kuwait oil income soars

Kuwait's earnings from oil in the first four months of the current fiscal year have hit 6.58 billion dollars, more than the 6.27 billion dollars projected for the entire year, a think-tank said Saturday.

The OPEC member calculated oil income in the current 2000/2001 fiscal year at a conservative price of 13 dollars a barrel, but sold its crude at an average price of 27.63 dollars between July and October, Al-Shall Economic Consultants said.

Morocco questions EU will on fishing accord

Morocco expressed regret on Saturday at the European Union's attitude in negotiations on a new fisheries accord and questioned the bloc's "real will" to reach an agreement.

The fisheries ministry said answers given by the EU team in the talks ignored the committment of both sides to achieve balanced cooperation and partnership.

"Morocco questions the real will of the EU to continue contacts in order to advance positively in the negotiations as expressed in October by Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler," the ministry said in a statement faxed to Reuters.

Fischler said after visiting Morocco in mid-October that the two sides agreed to negotiate "a new fisheries partnership...and a new form of cooperation that reflects the interests of both sides".

Oman exemplifies GCC first private sector housing bank

Now that the GCC real estate recession looks like it's on its way out, realty financing will be the new buzzword in corporate circles. Good tidings indeed for the Gulf region's first private sector housing bank, the Alliance Housing Bank, in Oman.

Established in 1998, Alliance Bank finances home loans for the purchase, construction, completion and other related outflows of private residence. Loans up to 80 per cent of the value of the property are granted at variable interest rates. The bank also focuses on long term financial planning with innovative investment schemes like retirement and education plans.

"The main priority of the bank is to help citizens realize their aspirations of home ownership," says a company spokesperson. "The bank also seeks to develop a long term savings perspective in the minds of people to accumulate wealth in their productive years to meet their retirement, children's education, health and general savings."