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Page last updated at 13:31 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009

New mobile network in West Bank

Palestinians buy Wataniya SIM cards
Analysts expect mobile phone usage in the West Bank to rapidly increase

A new mobile phone network has been launched in the West Bank, bringing competition to the Palestinian market and hopes of wider economic benefits.

Wataniya Mobile began operations after months of disputes with Israel, though with less capacity than it had wanted.

Analysts anticipate that phone and call charges will fall now that Paltel's monopoly in the area has been broken.

Middle East Quartet Envoy Tony Blair said the network would boost the Palestinian economy and create jobs.

'Sign of sovereignty'

Wataniya, of which 57% is owned by a Kuwati unit of Qatar Telecommunications (Qtel) and 43% by the public Palestine Investment Fund, has pumped $100m (£60m) into network infrastructure so far.

This is a sign Palestine is open for business
Tony Blair, Middle East envoy

It is expected to invest a further $700m (£418m) and create 2,700 jobs over the next 10 years.

Analysts expect the current low rate of mobile phone usage in the West Bank - just 35% - to rapidly increase during that period. Paltel has 1.5 million Palestinian subscribers.

Wataniya said it was only given 3.8MHz of bandwidth from Israel, instead of the 4.8MHz that had been promised. Without the spectrum, Wataniya says it will be unable to offer 3G services such as mobile internet.

Mr Blair, envoy for the Middle East Quartet - the US, Russia, the UN and the EU - said the launch was a "sign of sovereignty and statehood".

"It is vital to build on it. This is a sign Palestine is open for business," he said.

The former UK prime minster also presided over a ceremony to open an upgraded checkpoint outside the West Bank town of Jenin.

Vehicles will now be able to cross into and out of Israel at the Jalama checkpoint, which was closed nine years' ago during the second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising.

The development comes amid uncertainty over the future of the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr Abbas declared last week that he would not seek re-election in January because of an impasse in peace negotiations with Israel.

But it is thought that he could stay in post for some time, since the poll may be postponed if Hamas carries through a threat to block the vote in Gaza, which it controls.

Arab and Israeli media have speculated that it could be a tactical manoeuvre and he could change his mind.



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