Saturday, April 25, 2009

CROOKS to RICHES: EXCLUSIVE-US aid goes to Abbas-backed phone venture

Fri Apr 24, 2009 7:53am EDT
* U.S. aid goes to well-connected Palestinian telecom firm

* Supporters say Abbas-backed Wataniya had no other options

* Aid was meant for struggling small and mid-sized firms

By Adam Entous

"RAMALLAH, West Bank, April 24 (Reuters) - U.S. aid in the form of loan guarantees meant for Palestinian farmers and other small to mid-sized businesses has been given to a mobile phone firm backed by President Mahmoud Abbas and Gulf investors.

The shift in U.S. taxpayer support to Wataniya Palestine, a joint venture between a Kuwaiti and Qatari telecoms group and a holding company for public assets, the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF), has dismayed sponsors of small private enterprise.

Its supporters counter that help for Wataniya Palestine is good for jobs and free markets at a time when Washington is throwing its weight, and money, behind Abbas as a bulwark against Hamas Islamists in Gaza and as a partner in efforts to relaunch peace negotiations with Israel.

Among the firm's advocates is Middle East envoy Tony Blair, who pressed Israel to grant Wataniya Palestine radio frequencies so the company can challenge a monopoly long held by PalTel......."

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