Deadlock in talks
The escalation in violence on the Lebanese-Israeli front over the past
week has been described by political analysts as a fallout from the deadlock in the
"This is the natural outcome of the deadlock in Syrian and Israeli
talks," say Nizar Hamzeh, a professor at the American University of Beirut.
"Trapped with a deadline, the two players [Israel and Syria] are
trying to secure what they can. The deadlock has given Hizbollah more liberty to
maneuver," he added.
Hizbollah, or Party of God, is a Muslim guerrilla group fighting a war
of attrition against Israel, trying to oust it out of the 850 sq km it occupies in South
Lebanon since 1978.
Backed by Iran, morally but also allegedly with arms supplies,
Hizbollah is also allegedly supported by Syria, who uses it as a pressure tool on Israel
to recuperate the Golan Heights it lost to Israel during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Over the past 10 days, the number of casualties in the ranks of the
Israeli army and its allies in South Lebanon, the South Lebanon army, has grown
considerably, taking everybody by surprise.
The increase in quantity was accompanied by an increase in quality and
precision, allowing Hizbollah to score direct hits, killing six Israeli soldiers and
wounding another nine in just 10 days.
Last Sunday, Hizbollah also succeeded in killing, Aql Hashem, a top
Israeli officer and deputy commander of the militia. The sixth Israeli casualty fell
Tuesday, in an attack the Hizbollah launched in retaliation for Monday's air raids.
The past few days has seen reports published in newspapers, mainly in
Israel, claiming that Iran had stepped up its supply of arms to
Oil eases, price surge attracts profit-takers
Crude prices in Asia edged lower on Thursday after New York's rally
overnight attracted some profit taking. March New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) crude
last traded at $28.72, down five cents from the New York close.
The contract surged 75 cents in New York after the latest US stock data
showed inventories were at their lowest levels in over a decade.
US crude prices have risen 12 percent this year.
In January NYMEX crude rose to $29.95 per barrel, the highest levels
since the Gulf War.
Prices have almost trebled from the low of $10.35 hit in December 1998,
boosted by a concerted policy of output cuts by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting
Countries (OPEC) and some other producers.
Mexican Oil Minister Luis Tellez moved late on Wednesday to calm
worries that oil stocks were too low and prices too high.
Economics takes back seat at Iran poll
The rough-and-tumble politics of Iran's factional struggle has pushed
key economic issues off the agenda of next week's parliamentary polls.
As a result, many of the most crucial questions that will face the 290
deputies during their four-year terms are getting short shrift from the more than 6,500
candidates as they campaign for the February 18 contest.
Analysts say this phenomenon will hurt the conservatives, who have been
unable to use the economic hardship of ordinary people against the policies of moderate
President Mohammad Khatami and his pro-reform allies.
On the surface, the case for a vigourous economic debate appears
clear-cut. Among the pressing issues facing the next parliament are: Foreign trade and the
future role, if any, of the private sector in what remains a state monopoly. This would
require major changes in existing laws.
- Privatisation and, beyond that, the broader question of the state's
place in the economy.
- Foreign investment and the role of multi-nationals.
Existing laws restrict foreign investment in Iran's most attractive
sectors, such as mining and energy. This will also require significant legal reform.
At the same time, annual inflation, at around 20 percent, remains a
constant worry, while unemployment is rampant, particularly in less-developed areas.
Figures published on Tuesday showed unemployment ranging from 31 percent in Lorestan
province, in the west, to a low of 8.8 percent in Semnan province, to the north.
'Islamic banks need regulation'
Islamic financial institutions need to establish an internationally
accepted regulatory system to ensure continued growth, Bahrain's central bank governor
said on Tuesday.
"The Islamic financial community must accept that their
institutions have to be regulated and supervised to international standards," Bahrain
Monetary Agency (BMA) Governor Sheikh Abdulla bin Khalifa al-Khalifa said.
"Ultimately, their ability to grow and compete will be dependent
on international acceptance of the regulating regime under which they operate," he
told a banking seminar.
Islamic banks do not deal in interest the core of the Western
banking system as it is considered by many Moslems as usury, banned by
There are some 200 Islamic financial institutions globally serving the
world's 1.2 billion Muslims.
Oman to invite bids for two gas pipeline projects
Oman will soon invite bids for two natural gas pipeline projects in the
Gulf Arab state worth some $600 million, an oil and gas ministry official said on Tuesday.
"The tender board is going to invite bids any time now for the
construction of the two natural gas pipelines which we expect to cost around $600
million," Khalifa al Hinai, the ministry's technical adviser, told Reuters.
He said the first pipeline would be built from central Oman to the
northern city of Sohar, which the government is promoting as an industrial city, and the
second would transport gas from northwest Oman to the southern city of Salalah, where a
private power plant is planned.
Saudi plans water projects worth $171 mln
Saudi Arabia plans to build several water purification and desalination
stations across the kingdom at a cost of 643 million riyals ($171 million), a Saudi
newspaper reported on Sunday.
The Arabic-language daily Al-Eqtisadiah quoted Agriculture and Water
Resources Minister Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz bin Muammar as saying the plans involved three
major projects and 50 smaller schemes, including digging for underground water.
The projects include a water purification plant to be built on the King
Fahd dam in southwestern Saudi Arabia with a capacity for 40,000 cubic metres (1.4 million
cubic feet) per day, the newspaper said. The dam, which has capacity for 325 million cubic
metres, was opened in 1998.
Tunisian team starts Iraq trade talks
A Tunisian delegation began talks on Saturday with Iraqi officials
aimed at concluding trade deals under Iraq's oil-for-food deal with the United Nations.
The Iraqi News Agency INA said Tunisian Trade Minister Mondher Zenaidi
led a team of more than 40 businessmen in the talks.
Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh told Zenaidi that Baghdad
sought to "increase and expand economic and trade between the two sisterly
countries," INA said.
Iran's first sugarcane plant opened
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami inaugurated the Islamic republic's
first sugarcane refinery in the prosperous southwestern Khuzestan province.
The plant, named "Khomeini", has a nameplate capacity of
100,000 tonnes a year, and is located on the Shoaybieh plain, the radio said.
The refinery will produce 40,000 tonnes of refined sugar in the first
year, 70,000 tonnes the second, ramping up to full capapcity in year three.
Federal body on utilities to be set up
A Federal Electricity and Water Authority (Fewa) will soon be set up
here for power generation and distribution and production of desalinated water in the
Announcing this during the course of his inaugural address at the 25th
annual Middle East Electricity conference, Humaid bin Nasser Al Owais the UAE Minister of
Electricity and Water, said: "The electricity and water utilities under the
ministry's jurisdiction will be converted into an authority, to be known as Fewa. It will
be responsible for power and water utilities in the northern emirates."
He added: "With this, the UAE will have four main electricity and
water authorities. They will have opportunities to plan, develop and operate their
generation, transmission and distribution systems independently. "
Microsoft bullish on Egyptian Internet market
Microsoft Corp hopes a monthly Internet package deal offered jointly
with Compaq Computer Corp and Citigroup's Citibank will help a broad segment of Egypt's
population to surf the worldwide web.
"A similar initiative in Turkey had great success and sold around
100,000 packages in four months last year. The same scheme also was a huge success in
South Africa," Microsoft Sales Manager Ehab Abdel Aziz, coordinator of the
"Internet Baladna" or "Egypt's Own Internet" programme told.
"Egypt has only 650,000 personal computer owners out of a
population of 65 million, which is a penetration rate of just one percent," he said.
"In Turkey and South Africa, the normal penetration rate is 10 to 15 percent.
Free zone for e-commerce set up in Dubai
Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai Shaikh
Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, issued a decree Saturday setting up a free trade zone for
electronic commerce and technology.
The UAE news agency, Wam, said the decree also established an
independent body, the Free Zone Authority headed by General Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al
Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE Defence Minister, which would operate under the
Dubai government to spearhead the emirate's drive to become a regional centre for
electronic commerce, technology and information.
Gen. Shaikh Mohammed in October announced plans to set up the zone
which, he said, would be the first of its kind in the world and would be called Dubai
The Dubai government would invest $200 million in setting up the zone,
to be based on the outskirts of Dubai.
Arab free-trade zone talks under way in Cairo
Arab finance and economy ministers and their representatives began a
two-day meeting here Wednesday on the creation of an Arab free trade zone by 2007.
The talks are the latest in a series aimed at hammering out the role of
Arab monetary, development, agricultural and investment funds in the creation of this
zone, first proposed in a 1996 Arab League resolution.
The Arab League's 22 members began reducing customs duties on
reciprocal goods by 10 percent annually in January 1998. Members have 10 yelks, presided
over by Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammed Mahdi Saleh, are focusing on ways to increase
inter-Arab investment as well as remove taxes.
Duties have so far been reduced by 30 percent.
Fourteen Arab countries Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait,
Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab
Emirates have so far signed up to the zone.
Inter-Arab trade is worth about 160 billion dollars.
Saudi still debating foreign entry into oil sector
Saudi Arabia's finance and economy minister was quoted on Wednesday as
saying the kingdom was still studying how to allow international oil companies to invest
in its huge oil and gas sectors.
The London-based Asharq Al-Awsat quoted Ibrahim Abdel Aziz Al-Assaf as
saying that the subject of investments in the oil and gas sectors was "being studied
at the highest level." "This pertains to all the companies that have submitted
proposals," he said in comments he made to Asharq Al-Awsat.
Major international companies, including Mobil Corp, Royal Dutch/Shell
Group, Chevron Corp, Texaco Inc and Total Fina have presented proposals for investments in
Saudi Arabia's huge oil sector after Crown Prince Abdullah invited major energy oil firms
to submit their views.
The kingdom's 260 billion barrels of oil reserves, the world's largest,
have been off limits to Western companies since nationalisation in 1975.