. .

Dec 04 - 10, 2000

Palestinians reject Barak's proposal

Beleaguered Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak proposed a peace deal on Thursday to give Palestinians a state, annex Jewish settlements to Israel and delay negotiations on Al Quds and Palestinian refugees for up to three years.

Palestinian officials swiftly rejected the offer as a re-election ploy and said any accord had to cover all issues, including Al Quds and the refugees.

Barak urged Israelis alarmed by a two-month-old Palestinian uprising to back his peace efforts, telling them they could not rely solely on military might when it came to ending conflict.

"It's time for us to stop being afraid," said Barak, who is seeking a fresh mandate in general election next year.

"We are the strongest country in the Middle East and even this doesn't mean we can solve every problem with one big punch," he said in an address to Israeli editors.

Peace prospects have rarely looked gloomier. Israeli troops shot dead a 17-year-old Palestinian student and wounded three others in the West Bank, witnesses and medical sources said.

The shooting south of Bethlehem raised to at least 286 the number of people, mostly Palestinians, who have been killed in the uprising against Israeli occupation.

The Israeli army said soldiers had fired rubber-coated metal bullets in clashes in the area and knew of no deaths.

In other clashes at least 50 youths threw stones at Israeli troops in Gaza and five Palestinians were wounded, four of them with bullet injuries to the head, hospital officials said.

In an animated speech that appeared to be the launch of his election campaign, Barak told the senior Israeli journalists that in view of failed peace moves to date, he had been weighing a proposal to deal with security and borders.

U.S. ready to act if Iraq halts oil sale

The United States is ready to take action, including dipping further into its strategic petroleum reserve, if Iraq halts its oil exports, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said on yesterday.

"The U.S. is prepared to respond to Iraq if they take these steps," Richardson told reporters after addressing a conference on electricity deregulation.

Asked if the Clinton administration would be willing to release more oil from the strategic petroleum reserve, he said: "We are ready to do it quickly. "

He added that several oil exporting countries in the Middle East had pledged to compensate for any shortfall.

"Several Gulf states have said they would make up the shortfall ... and we could use the (Strategic Petroleum Reserve)," he said.

The Middle East Economic Survey (MEES) reported that Iraq intended to halt oil exports unless companies agreed to pay a 50 cent per barrel surcharge that it has demanded.

Iraq, which exports an estimated 2.4 million barrels of oil a day is among the leading sources of foreign oil for the United States. Officials here have acknowledged that a cut-off could impose difficulties on U.S. households and industry, particularly as winter approaches.

MEES said Baghdad's State Oil Marketing Organisation had sent a fax to buyers informing them that unless they pay the surcharge into a special account from December 1 they will lose their cargoes.

Under UN sanctions since its invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Iraq has been authorised to sell oil abroad, using the proceeds to acquire humanitarian goods under a UN-administered programme.

HSBC, Iranian banks sign $500m deal

HSBC has signed a Dh 1.85b ($500 million) medium-term project finance framework agreement with six Iranian commercial banks. The deal was coordinated by the Central Bank of Iran.

The deal formalises the basis for loans, secured by leading export credit agencies on either a sole or multi-sourced basis, to finance infrastructure projects in Iran by large international companies.

The Iranian banks involved in the agreement are Bank Melli, Bank Saderat, Bank Mellat Bank Tejarat, Bank Sepah and the Export Development Bank.

HSBC opened a representative office in Tehran in October last year, returning to the Iranian market after an absence of over 20 years. During the past year, HSBC representatives in Iran have been actively involved in developing a broad range of commercial and investment banking activities.

Moody's upgraded Iran's country rating in October. Cover limits for Iran have generally been increased by European export credit agencies over the past year, most recently by UK's ECGD.

Abu Dhabi stalls oil major's expansion plans

Hopes at oil majors BP Amoco and TotalFinaElf for the expansion of their upstream oil stakes in Abu Dhabi have dimmed again after reaching fever pitch two months ago, a regional newspaper and analysts said on Wednesday.

The oil majors, both with deep-rooted investments in the UAE, had appeared poised to take on significant equity stakes in the Zakum Development Company (Zadco) from majority shareholder, state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc).

But the Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported on Wednesday that the SPC had objected to a package which would have seen BP acquiring 14.67 per cent and TotalFinaElf 13.33 per cent of Zadco.

"The deal had reached a stage of detailed discussion, but it was frozen and all the results reached were also frozen," the pan-Arab newspaper quoted oil sources in Abu Dhabi as saying.

Regional oil analysts, who requested anonymity, told Reuters that internal debate within the United Arab Emirates' ultimate oil decision-maker, the Supreme Petroleum Council, has left negotiations in limbo.

Gulf states need $100b for power over 10 years

Gulf Arab states need to invest $100 billion over the next 10 years and speed up privatisation of their power sector to meet rapidly growing demand, a regional body said.

The Gulf Organisation for Industrial Consultancy (GOIC) said in a monthly bulletin that the six nations also needed to streamline operations in the power sector and implement a planned regional power grid project.

The Doha-based GOIC promotes industrial cooperation between Gulf Arab states. It groups the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

"The essential investment needed for the generation of electricity in the GCC region is estimated at $100 billion to satisfy projected demand in the coming decade," the study said.

GOIC said demand for electricity in the region was growing at an average seven per cent a year and required investments of some $10.5 billion per year.

First commercial flight

A Royal Jordanian plane arrived in Baghdad overnight Thursday from Amman, the first commercial flight to Iraq since 1990, an aviation source said.

"The plane, an Airbus A310, landed at Saddam Hussein international airport after a flight of an hour and a half," the source told AFP.

Passengers were met at the airport by leading Iraqi officials, the source added.

The Airbus 310 plane left Amman's Queen Alia international airport with 29 passengers on board, including journalists.

It was due to leave Baghdad for the return flight at dawn on Friday, after a brief stop in the Iraqi capital.

Espionage scandal fuels tense Egypt-Israel relation

A new espionage scandal fuel the already tense Israeli-Egytian relations. While Israel denied Tuesday any involvement with an espionage case in Egypt involving an Egyptian engineer and a former Russian officer, Egypt confirmed that both suspected worked for Israel's Mossad spy agency.

Egypt's intelligence agency had informed prosecutors in September that a Russian agent for Mossad had recruited Sherif Fawzi El-Filali, 35, Egyptian engineer and introduced him to two Israeli intelligence officers.

Egypt's prosecutor general, filed complaints in the day against the suspects to the supreme state security court, which summoned Mohammed El-Filali, the 34-year-old engineer, Egypt's Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported November 28.

Egyptian prosecutors said that El-Filali was recruited and was later arrested in Cairo, to stand trial on charges of spying for Israel.

Kuwait NBK

National Bank of Kuwait's $105 million takeover of Egypt's Misr America International Bank, a key part of its regional expansion plan, has stalled because of a legal dispute, NBK said on Wednesday.

NBK, Kuwait's largest commercial bank, had earlier this year offered 531 Egyptian pounds ($140) a share for the entire 750,000 MAIB shares. A second bidder, Credit Agricole Indosuez, a unit of Credit Agricole of France, is now in talks to take over MAIB at 420 pounds a share.

Algerian government raises minimum wage by 33%

The Algerian government will increase the country's minimum wage by 33 per cent and raise civil servants' salaries by 15 per cent.

The increases will come into effect on January 1, 2001, Trade Minister Mourad Medelci said late on Saturday following a cabinet meeting chaired by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

The decision raises the minimum monthly salary to 8,000 dinars ($100) from 6,000 dinars. The North African country's main labour union confederation had demaned a minimum wage of 10,000 dinars ($125).

Medelcihe told a news conference the government had taken into consideration the union's platform and the finances of the country.

Lebanon cuts import duties

The Lebanese government on Wednesday scrapped import duties on raw material used in industry and on semi-manufactured products, information Minister Ghazi al-Aridi said.

And he said imported goods that had duties exceeding 100 per cent would now carry a 70 per cent tariff.

Finance Minister Fouad Siniora said on Tuesday lowering import duties was the main component of a strategy to restore economic growth, which he expected to finish at zero this year.

Aridi did not give comparative tariff levels before the latest cabinet decision. He said a list of all products affected would be distributed later but the reductions excluded the highly protected agricultural sector.

New brands

Eastern Tobacco, in which the state plans to float a fresh tranche later this year, will launch several new upmarket cigarette brands soon, the company said on Tuesday.

Reda Al-Maghrabi, spokesperson of Eastern Tobacco, said the company was also building a new production site to meet additional demand.

Maghrabi said the group was planning to launch several new top-of-the market brands in Egypt "very soon" which were designed to compete with major international brands.

Saudi prince to buy Beirut hotel for $90m

Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal is holding negotiations to buy the Carlton seafront hotel in Beirut for 90 million dollars, the hotel's current owner told AFP on Tuesday.

"The deal has not been finalized yet and negotiations are ongoing," Joseph Mudawar said.

The deal involves a 10,000-square-meter (107,600 square foot) piece of land in the Raouche coastal neighborhood, with a 130-room hotel built in 1976 a year after the 15-year civil war started.

It also includes the skeleton of an annex building of 23 floors, with a capacity for 235 rooms, which had not been finished due to the war.

The Saudi tycoon, 43, also owns the nearby seafront Movenpick luxurious hotel which is due to open next year, in addition to numerous investments in Lebanon in the tourism, banking and media sectors.

Moroccan bourse continues fall

Morocco's bourse ended 0.18 per cent lower on Tuesday amid a continuing absence of investors, brokers said.

The all-share index closed at 674.21 points down from Monday's 675.42 points. It has fallen 13.26 per cent in the year to date.

Blue-chip BMCE Bank led the trade for the second consecutive day with almost 51 per cent of the thin 21.5 million dirhams ($1.94 million) volume traded.

Iraq, India set platform

Iraq said on Wednesday its ties with India had turned the corner and the two nations were set on a long-term strategic partnership.

Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan, the highest ranking Iraqi official to visit New Delhi in 25 years, said the two countries had agreed to boost ties in all sectors, including oil that had been affected by 10-year-old UN sanctions imposed on Iraq.

"I call this visit a true turning point in our relations. We are establishing long-term strategic relations and not just related to oil," he told a news conference after a round of meetings with Indian leaders.

The two countries reached an agreement on a wheat-for-oil deal that will go to the UN sanctions committee for approval, an Indian foreign ministry spokesman said.

Under the counter-trade deal, India will export wheat to Iraq in exchange for Iraqi crude oil and petroleum products, he said.