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“Let’s forget about 2008,” urges Nakheel chairman

Nakheel chairman Ali Rashid Lootah says a third tranche sukuk is likely to be issued in two months’ time.

Nakheel chairman Ali Rashid Lootah says a third tranche sukuk is likely to be issued in two months’ time.

Fiveyears ago, Nakheel’s main problem was keeping up with demand. Back in 2007, anxious buyers queued for as long as twelve hours just for the privilege of handing over cheques for millions of dirhams. The Jumeirah Park project had just launched, and the queue of cars stretched back from Nakheel’s sales centre for several kilometres.

That was then; this is now. At this month’s launch of Nakheel’s newest venture on the Palm Jumeirah – its biggest claim to fame – the queues barely stretched around the counter.

So what went wrong? It’s safe to say it’s not been an easy few years for Nakheel. Famous for raising man-made islands out of the Arabian Gulf, the developer attracted even further unwanted fame globally as it battled to restructure more than US$16bn in debt in the wake of the Dubai property crash.

Fast forward to April 2012, and as chairman Ali Rashid Lootah sits down to announce Nakheel’s latest annual results, it appears things have changed – at least in terms of the developer’s fortunes anyway.

“We achieved profit of AED1.28bn (US$348.5m)… It has been a good year. We have been doing fantastic across the board, across all of our areas… It is a big sign of the recovery of the market,” he says.

“We see the demand for our properties increase and I can also assure you that 2012, from the early figures we have, is going to be even much better.”

That is partly because, according to Lootah himself, Nakheel has managed to slash contractors’ claims down to just fifteen percent. Within a few short years, Lootah has turned the company around and brought it through a painful restructuring process.

“Our cumulative profit for 2010, plus 2011 – post restructuring – was AED2.25bn (US$612m). Compared to 2010 it is a 53 percent increase,” he states.

The 2011 figure is also up 33 percent and 2012 looks even more positive, particularly as the developer gets back into its core business and the phones start to ring at its sales centre.

“This is the start of the recovery,” says Lootah. “We are launching new projects and people are buying the new product from Nakheel and paying down the 40 percent deposit.”

One of the new projects to capture investor interest is Palma Residences, the first residential project to be launched on the famous Palm Jumeirah since the market crashed four years ago.

Due to be completed in eighteen months, Lootah claims the project sold out 30 percent of its units — which are priced at between AED6m to AED8m each – within a week of being launched.

With sales of AED223m (US$60m) already in the bag and 30 more potential buyers in the pipeline, Lootah says this is a sign that the recovery is fully under way.

“We want to prove that Nakheel is serious,” he says. “The 30 percent sales in one week is a sign of the trust in Dubai and a sign of the trust in Nakheel… We only want to deal with serious buyers, people who will commit with us to complete to the end of this project.

“We are building a complete community and most of the buyers are end-users. It is a sign of investors’ confidence in Nakheel and I am really happy about that… Our intention is to make Palm Jumeirah the tourism destination of the region, not only Dubai.”

So is Lootah now claiming the property market has started its recovery process?

“I think we have the proof that the prices are not going down. I have evidence that the price is going up. Don’t believe what you read, I don’t know where they get their information but we have the proven fact… so don’t believe these stories, they are not true,” he says.

Lootah’s argument is that prices on the Fond end of the Palm have increased 30 percent since sales reopened a year ago. “We sold already over 70 percent of the Frond end and still demand is going,” he states.

Whether Lootah is right in terms of a recovery does of course depend on which period you compare the figures to. Arabian Business recently unearthed a 2008 sales brochure showing the prices of homes in Nakheel’s Jash Hamad building, part of the Palm’s Shoreline development.

Compared to the same type of units in 2012, the comparison clearly shows prices have plunged by as much 75 percent since the crash and, in some cases, properties with an asking price of AED7.6m (US$2.01m) in 2008 are now being offered for below AED2m.

While most analysts might compare prices to the height of the boom in 2008, Lootah prefers to compare them to 2010, when the market had fallen at least 60 percent and prices were hovering around the bottom.

“Let’s forget about 2008, it’s history… let us compare to 2010,” he insists.

For those who bought at the height of 2008 and are paying mortgages, the statistics do not make for easy reading.

Lootah says that Nakheel’s independent valuation experts have confirmed that prices have now stabilised and there was therefore no need for any impairment charges to be built into its accounts for 2011.

“There is no more impairment as the market is picking up and stabilising. There is no need for that… They are independent valuation contractors and they have taken that position.”

With the buyers now – according to Lootah at least – coming back on board, the next issue hanging over from Nakheel’s $16bn restructuring is the money owed to its contractors. As part of its agreement, trade creditors were given 40 percent of what they were owed in cash and the remainder was given in the form of sukuk.

Lootah says a third tranche of an Islamic bond, or sukuk, is likely to be issued in two months’ time and will be part of the settlement of AED5.3bn (US$1.44bn) worth of claims.

The first two tranches of the bond are worth more than AED4bn (US$1.09bn), the first of which was issued last August and the second of which is due by the end of this month. Last year, Lootah stated that it had slashed the value of “exaggerated” contractor claims against it by 75 percent. “You know contractors, they always exaggerate,” he said in September.

He says now: “Contractors always try to get away with [inflated claims]. They always try, I can’t stop them from trying, but we know the business and we are fair with them.

“We have been open and we employed an independent claims consultant so we didn’t want to be influenced by any opinions from inside Nakheel… We asked them to give their comments on their claims, and they are welcome to give their opinions, but if they cannot defend their claims then it is tough luck,” he says.

At present Nakheel is handing over around 40 to 50 units a day, Lootah says, and in August 2011 it said it planned to handover 7,982 homes by the end of 2012.

He also reports that interest in financing the first AED300m needed to develop the first phase of The Pointe – a retail project at the tip of Palm Jumeirah opposite the Atlantis hotel – has also been strong.

“Banks have excellent appetite for that project, more than any other project. We are already engaged with a consultant on the design and a retail consultant to make sure we make it the best project and the best retail outlet in Dubai.

“We hope, by the end of the year, that this project will kick-start for sure. We will tender for it by the middle of this year, but we are careful that we have all the small details well planned… it is going to be a unique project.”

With the state-owned developer having sold 74 plots of land worth AED657m (US$178m) on the Palm so far this year, including a 60,000 square foot plot opposite the Atlantis hotel for AED87m (US$23.6m), things are looking up.

Some experts however still suggest that Nakheel is too heavily tied to its own past, and a rebranding exercise – possibly even a name change – should be considered. Does he agree?

“No,” he says. “It is a good name… Regardless of what has happened, people are coming back. It is Nakheel, no way.”

Down the road in Abu Dhabi, the emirate’s two largest developers — Aldar Properties and Sorouh Real Estate — look set to merge. While analysts believe this may lead to a move towards increased consolidation, Lootah says he isn’t entertaining any similar thoughts. “I don’t know about the other company but NakheeI doesn’t think so,” he says.

Whatever one may think about the company’s chequered past, a strong and profitable Nakheel can only be good for Dubai.


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Dubai World subsidiary to get full control of Atlantis

photo_1335605964871-1-2-Quicklook.jpgThe hotel, which opened in 2008 to much fanfare, was a joint project developed by Istithmar and Kerzner
AFP – Marwan Naamani

Istithmar World, a subsidiary of the government-owned conglomerate Dubai World, which shook markets across the globe in 2009 with its debt woes, announced on Saturday its acquisition of the remaining stake in the Atlantis hotel on Dubai’s glitzy palm-shaped island.

The company confirmed “the completion of the purchase of Kerzner International Holdings Limited’s 50 percent interest in Atlantis … for $250 million (189 million euros),” with the purchase making Istithmar the sole owner of the 1,537 room resort.

The hotel, which opened in 2008 to much fanfare, was a joint project developed by Istithmar and Kerzner, which the statement said will continue to operate the Atlantis.

Dubai World chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum said the deal “effectively consolidates our investment in one of our best performing assets and one of Dubai’s landmark properties,” adding that the hotel “continues to exceed our expectations.”

Inspired by the legend of the lost continent, the resort offers a water park, a marine habitat and more than a dozen restaurants run by world-class chefs including Japanese sushi mogul Nobu Matsuhisa and Michel Rostang of France.

Dubai, one of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, is a regional business, leisure and tourism hub.

In November 2009, Dubai sent shock waves across global financial markets when it announced a freeze in debt repayments by Dubai World, its largest group.

In March 2011, the company announced that it had signed a final agreement to restructure $14.7 billion (11.1 billion euros) of debt.


العلاقات بين مصر والسعودية تاريخ من الشد و الجذب تنتهي بمشكلة الجيزاوى التي تعيد التوتر مرة أخرى

تعيد الأزمة الحالية بين مصر والسعودية إلى الأذهان تاريخ التوترات بين البلدين والشد والجذب على مر التاريخ، حيث اعتبرت وكالة الأسشيوتدبرس، أن هذا الصدع الدبلوماسى بين أكبر قوتين فى المنطقة يعد الأسوأ منذ عام 1979.

الملك عبد الله بن عبد العزيز
وأشارت إلى أن أحداث 1979 التى بدأت حينما قطعت الدول العربية علاقاتها الدبلوماسية مع مصر بعد توقيعها لـ”اتفاق سلام مع إسرائيل”، وتمت إعادة العلاقات عام 1987، فيما وصف مصطفى الفقى، المفكر السياسى، العلاقة بين البلدين بأنها حساسة، ومرت بالكثير من مراحل التوتر إلى أن هدأت خلال الفترة الماضية إلى حد ما، لافتا إلى أنه يجب المحافظة على ذلك.

وكانت بداية هذه التوترات فى عهد الزعيم جمال عبد الناصر، بسبب الخلاف الذى حدث نتيجة حرب اليمن، فى 26 سبتمبر 1962 أرسل الرئيس عبد الناصر، القوات المسلحة المصرية إلى اليمن لدعم الثورة اليمنية التى قامت على غرار الثورة المصرية، وأيدت السعودية الإمام اليمنى المخلوع، خوفا من امتداد الثورة إليها، وهو ما أدى إلى توتر العلاقات المصرية السعودية، إلى أن انتهت بالصلح بين ناصر والملك فيصل فى مؤتمر الخرطوم، بعد نكسة 76 عندما ساهمت السعودية لنقل الجيش المصرى من اليمن.

واستمرت فيما بعد العلاقات المستقرة بين البلدين خلال عهد عبد الناصر، وفى بداية عهد الرئيس أنور السادات، وصلت العلاقات إلى أبهى صورها خاصة بعد الدور الذى قامت به السعودية، خلال حرب أكتوبر، إلا أنه فيما بعد جاءت اتفاقية كامب ديفيد لتعصف بهذا الاستقرار بين البلدين، حيث قررت السعودية فى 23 / 4 / 79 قطع العلاقات الدبلوماسية مع مصر.

وجاء فى قرار مجلس الوزراء السعودى، أنه نظرا لأن حكومة مصر العربية، قد قبلت وعزمت على تبادل التمثيل الدبلوماسى مع العدو الصهيونى، وبدأت فى إنشاء علاقات طبيعية معه دون مراعاة الحد الأدنى من المطالب التى تتطلع الأمة العربية من خلالها إلى تحقيق السلام العادل والشامل، فإن المملكة السعودية قررت قطع العلاقات الدبلوماسية والسياسية مع جمهورية مصر العربية.

فى المقابل شن الرئيس أنور السادات، هجوما على حكام السعودية، مؤكدا أن موقف السعودية من حملة قطع العلاقات يعود إلى الاحتجاج على أمريكا، لأنها تخلت عن شاه إيران ويمكن أن تتخلى عنهم، وإثبات زعامة لا يستطيعون تحمل مسؤولياتها أمام العالم العربى.


Spain reels from record jobless figures, downgrade

photo_1335516904818-1-2-Quicklook.jpgA total 5.64 million people searched in vain for work in the recession-bound economy
AFP/File – Cristina Quicler

Record unemployment, soaring problem loans at the banks and a ratings downgrade heaped pressure on Friday on Spain’s government as it battles to dispel fears it may need a debt rescue.

The country, deep in recession, was “perhaps going through one of its most difficult periods on the economy,” government spokeswoman Soraya Saenz said as Madrid took stock of an increasingly difficult position.

“We are aware that this is a difficult time but if we all work together, we will get out of the crisis,” Saenz added.

Germany, the eurozone’s economic powerhouse and paymaster, expressed its confidence in Spain’s efforts to tame the crisis.

photo_1335540074462-1-2-Quicklook.jpgThe jobless rate hit 24.44% in the first quarter, up sharply from 22.85% in the last three months
AFP Graphic

Berlin believes that “Spain is determined to do whatever is necessary to overcome the challenges posed by the crisis,” said Steffen Seibert, spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Spain’s jobless rate hit 24.44 percent in the first quarter, up sharply from 22.85 percent in the last three months of 2011 as 365,900 jobs were lost, pushing unemployment to its highest level since 1996, official data showed.

Just hours earlier, Standard and Poor’s slashed Spain’s credit rating two notches to BBB+, with a negative outlook, warning of recession this year and next which will make it even harder to meet its deficit-cutting targets.

At the same time, the government was increasingly likely to have to pump in funds to help the banks, many still burdened by non-performing loans piled up since the property bubble imploded in 2008, S&P said.

Bank of Spain figures on Friday showed the commercial banks held problem real estate loans worth 184 billion euros, some 60 percent of their property portfolio at the end of 2011, and up from 176 billion euros in June.

Last week, the central bank said the ratio of bad loans — those at least three months in arrears — hit an 18-year high in February of 8.15 percent of total credit extended, the highest since 1994 and up from 7.91 percent in January.

photo_1335556043451-1-2-Quicklook.jpgSpain left reeling as figures show a quarter unemployed. Duration: 01:56

“The Bank of Spain has increased its demands for transparency required from the banks as regards their exposure to the property sector,” the central bank said Friday.

It said the impact on the banks’ balance sheets had been more severe in the second half of last year because of the “increasing deterioration of the macro-economic and financial situation in Spain and in the eurozone.”

“The rain in Spain is falling mainly on the banks … and there are dark clouds over the Spanish economy generally,” London-based VTB Capital economist Neil MacKinnon told AFP.

“In addition, there is a growing backlash against austerity policies which are imposing depressionary and deflationary conditions on much of the eurozone.”

The government meanwhile insisted it was on the right track, forecasting a return to modest growth next year and to balanced budgets by 2016, in line with European efforts to move past debt bailouts for Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

“For 2013, we are projecting slight growth” of 0.2 percent, Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said, after an expected contraction of 1.7 percent this year.

De Guindos said the economy should then pick up to post growth of 1.4 percent in 2014 and 1.8 percent in 2015.

Spain posted a public deficit — the shortfall in revenues to spending — equal to 8.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product last year, way above the 6.0 percent target and the EU ceiling of 3.0 percent.

photo_1335512887221-1-2-Quicklook.jpgAlready, Spain had the highest unemployment ratio in the industrialised world
AFP/File – Cristina Quicler

After a series of biting and hugely unpopular austerity measures, the government aims to get the deficit down to 5.3 percent this year and 3.0 percent in 2013.

De Guindos said the deficit would fall further to 2.2 percent in 2014, 1.1 percent in 2015 and finally to be in balance by 2016.

Analysts were sceptical.

“In Spain today a cycle similar to Greece is starting to develop. The recession is so deep that when you take one step forward on austerity, it takes you two steps back,” said HSBC chief economist Stephen King.

Many doubt the Spanish government can meet its deficit goals given the recession which tends to cuts tax income and increases welfare costs.

“In our opinion, these targets are currently unlikely to be met given the economic and financial environment,” S&P said, forecasting instead a deficit of 6.2 percent of GDP this year and 4.8 percent in 2013.


Guardiola quits Barcelona, assistant takes over

photo_1335540942846-1-2-Quicklook.jpg“Four years is an eternity as coach of Barca,” said Pep Guardiola
AFP – Josep Lago

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola announced Friday he is leaving at the end of the season, ending a four-year reign over one of the greatest eras in club football.

“This is not a very easy situation for me,” the 41-year-old Guardiola told a news conference where the club also revealed that his assistant coach Tito Vilanova will take over.

“Four years is an eternity as coach of Barca,” said Guardiola, who wore a grey V-knecked sweater and white collared shirt as he addressed a room in the Camp Nou filled with journalists and players.

“Time wears everything down, I feel drained and I need to replenish.”

Guardiola apologised for leaving the club in uncertainty for such a long period while he considered whether to extend his one-year contract, which expires in June.

But the coach said he wanted to wait until the Champions League and the Liga title were settled before making an announcement.

photo_1335534916736-1-2-Quicklook.jpgTito Vilanova takes over as coach of Barcelona
AFP/File – Lluis Gene

Barcelona crashed out of Europe’s premier club competition after a semi-final defeat to Chelsea on Tuesday, and Guardiola has already conceded the Spanish league title to arch rivals Real Madrid.

“The man who is succeeding me will be able to bring something more,” Guardiola said, standing up to hug club president Sandro Rosell at the podium after his statement.

He added that he would coach again but not immediately.

“I cannot replenish if I coach again immediately, I don’t want to,” he said. “I am leaving at peace with myself, with the feeling of a job well done — and I say that after losing two titles.”

Guardiola thanked the players, some of whom including Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas and Xavi Hernandez were in the room.

Striker Lionel Messi thanked Pep on his Facebook page but said he felt too much emotion to face the media glare.

“Because of the emotions I feel I preferred not to be present at Pep’s press conference and to stay away from the press because I know they will look for the pain on the players’ faces,” he said.

“It is something I decided not to show.”

Rosell heaped praise on Guardiola.

photo_1335535031721-1-2-Quicklook.jpgForward Cesc Fabregas attends a news conference in Barcelona
AFP – Lluis Gene

“Thank you Pep for having perfected a footballing model,” he said.

“The gratitude of Barcelona supporters will be eternal to the greatest coach in the history of our club,” he added.

“Let us be up to managing the legacy you leave us with, especially the remarkable playing system which will forever be remembered as the Pep system,” Rosell said.

After spending most of his playing career at Barcelona, Guardiola coached Barcelona’s B team before taking control of the first-team squad in June 2008 from Dutchman Frank Rijkaard.

In his four years at the helm, he has led Barcelona to 13 titles and is credited with promoting some of the most sublime football in the world, helped by huge talent including three-times FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi.

His successor Vilanova hit world headlines last summer when Jose Mourinho, coach of Real Madrid, poked him in the eye during a brawl on the sidelines of Barcelona’s Supercup victory at the Nou Camp.

Asked about the incident, which earned him a two-match ban, Mourinho famously asked journalists at a post-match news conference: “Pito Vilanova? I don’t know who this Pito is.”

Vilanova, 42, played only briefly as a professional in Spain’s top flight, notably with Celta Vigo, before turning to coaching at the end of his career and finding his way back to the club of his youth.

photo_1335535038511-1-2-Quicklook.jpgPep Guardiola (R) has led Barcelona to 13 titles in four years, helped by huge talent including Lionel Messi
AFP/File – Javier Soriano

He came through Barcelona’s youth ranks but after failing to break into the first team he continued his playing career with a number of lower league sides before retiring in 2002.

Vilanova rejoined the Catalans as a youth coach in 2007, helping Barcelona’s B side to promotion.

He was promoted to first team duties, working alongside Guardiola, for the 2008-2009 season, by the end of which the team had won six major trophies including the Champions League.

Guardiola supported his successor.

“I think the club made absolutely the right decision,” he said. “He will give to the players what I feel I can no longer give.”

Sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta said Vilanova understood the club philosophy of the game, including the intense preparation and analysis that the team puts in.

“We have always said that when we need a player we look at the within, so we look at home. What do we have at home? Tito. It’s easy.”


US seizes websites in stolen credit card crackdown

photo_1335477351379-1-2-Quicklook.jpgUS authorities have ordered the seizure of 36 websites engaged in selling and distributing stolen credit card numbers
AFP/Getty Images – Spencer Platt

US authorities have ordered the seizure of 36 websites engaged in selling and distributing stolen credit card numbers, officials said Thursday.

Visitors to the website, now in the custody of the federal government, are now greeted by a seizure banner under the FBI and Justice Department operation run in coordination with Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and other international law enforcement agencies.

Under Operation Wreaking hAVoC, law enforcement officials made undercover purchases of credit card numbers, at the suspect websites.

The sites are known as Automated Vending Carts, (AVC) which allow visitors to purchase stolen credit card numbers online using a virtual “shopping cart.”

The banks that issued the credit card numbers, including Bank of America, Sun Trust and Capital One, confirmed that the websites were not authorized to sell the numbers. Authorities obtained seizures orders from a federal magistrate judge in the Eastern District of Virginia.

“The websites we are targeting today were commercial outlets for stolen credit card information,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said in a statement.

“By making this information available on the Internet, these websites facilitated fraud on credit card holders around the world.”

Some AVC websites allow buyers to choose the type of credit card number to purchase, along with the account’s country of origin and the state in which the account holder lives. Through the sites, sellers can traffic stolen credit card information without communicating directly with buyers.

“Countless lives are thrown into financial turmoil because of these websites,” said US Attorney Neil MacBride.

“With a few simple clicks, thousands of stolen credit card numbers can be bought or sold to fraudsters anywhere in the world.”

In addition to SOCA, other international partners in the operation included Britain’s Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit, the Australian Federal Police, the German Bundeskriminalamt, the Macedonian Interior Ministry’s Cyber Crime Unit, Ukraine’s Internal Affairs Ministry, Romania’s Interior Ministry and the Dutch High-Tech Crime Unit.


Obama signs waiver to lift Palestinian aid barrier

photo_1335540262964-1-2-Quicklook.jpgA Palestinian man has his ration weighed as he receives his monthly food aid
AFP/File – Said Khatib

President Barack Obama has signed a waiver to remove curbs on funding to the Palestinian Authority, declaring the aid to be “important to the security interests of the United States.”

A $192 million aid package was frozen by the US Congress after the Palestinians moved to gain statehood at the United Nations last September.

But in a memo sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, published by the White House, the president said it was appropriate to release funds to the authority, which administers the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In signing the waiver, Obama instructed Clinton to inform Congress of the move, on the grounds that “waiving such prohibition is important to the national security interests of the United States.”

The Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 2012 contained a provision that said none of the funds “may be obligated or expended with respect to providing funds to the Palestinian Authority.”

In November, the US Congress released $40 million but the State Department had expressed concern about being able to provide the necessary funding to address the dire economic and humanitarian hardship facing Palestinians.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said the funds were aimed at “ensuring the continued viability of the moderate PA government under the leadership of president Mahmoud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad.”

“The PA has recognized Israel’s right to exist, renounced violence, and accepted previous agreements, including the Roadmap,” he said, referring to the peace plan proposed by the so-called Middle East Quartet — United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

“The United States is committed to a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace in the Middle East, including a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he added.

On April 11, the Quartet called on foreign donors to deliver promised aid to the Palestinians while urging Israelis and Palestinians to build trust to revive peace talks.


Clashes in Jerusalem over occupied Palestinian homes

photo_1335544360052-1-2-Quicklook.jpgActivists protest against Israeli Jewish settlers moving into the house of Palestinian Khaled Natshe
AFP – Ahmad Gharabli

Clashes broke out on Friday when some 150 Palestinians and Israelis demonstrated in east Jerusalem to protest against Jewish settlers taking over two houses there, an AFP reporter said.

As protesters brandished signs saying “Stop the occupation” and “Stop stealing Palestinian land,” there were scuffles between one settler and demonstrators and between protesters and police.

One Israeli demonstrator was arrested, which prompted her comrades to stage a sit-in in a street to block police.

On April 18, Israeli police evicted a Palestinian family of 14 people from their two houses in Beit Hanina after settlers won a court battle over ownership.

The eviction of the Natshe family was the first successful attempt by settlers to secure a property in the well-heeled Arab district in the northern part of east Jerusalem, rights groups said.

Israel captured east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the Syrian Golan Heights during the 1967 Six-Day War.

It considers all of Jerusalem to be its “eternal, undivided” capital and does not see construction in the eastern sector as settlement building.

But the Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their promised state, and furiously denounce any move by Israel to buy or build property there.

More than 340,000 Jewish settlers live in the Palestinian West Bank, and more than 200,000 in east Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government asked the Supreme Court to postpone until Tuesday the planned demolition of some 30 residences built on Palestinian land in the wildcat settlement of Ulpana, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, judicial sources said.

That would give time to reach a court decision on allowing them to remain, the sources said.


Egypt poll body reverses ban on last Mubarak-era PM

photo_1335398456394-1-2-Quicklook.jpgAhmad Shafiq
AFP/File – Khaled Desouki

Egypt’s electoral commission on Wednesday went back on a decision to bar ousted leader Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister from running in the May 23 presidential election.

“The electoral commission… has decided to give its green light for Ahmed Shafiq’s candidacy in the presidential election, having accepted his appeal,” the official MENA news agency reported.

The election panel on Tuesday had barred him from running to comply with a bill adopted by the Islamist-dominated parliament earlier this month banning the candidacies of all senior Mubarak-era officials.

Shafiq, a general and former civil aviation minister, had been named premier in the final days of Mubarak’s three-decade rule last year as he battled an 18-day popular uprising.

Mubarak-era intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who briefly served as vice president, was also disqualified on the technical grounds that he failed to secure the statutory number of endorsements from all the country’s provinces.

The electoral commission is due to publish a definitive list of candidates on Thursday.


Fed sees economy growing, avoids new stimulus

photo_1335385274072-8-2-Quicklook.jpgFederal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke
AFP/Getty Images – Mark Wilson

The Federal Reserve said Wednesday it sees US growth picking up and unemployment falling by the end of the year, as it held to existing stimulus measures despite some short-term economic headwinds.

Stating “it’s still a little too premature to declare victory,” Chairman Ben Bernanke gave a slightly more upbeat view of the economy and explained the Fed’s decision to shy away from more stimulus spending.

After a two-day meeting, Fed policymakers said they expected to keep interest rates near zero until late 2014, while predicting unemployment will fall to 7.8 to 8.0 percent by the end of the year.

Unemployment stands at 8.2 percent today, the lowest rate in three years, but nearly 13 million American workers are still unemployed.

The Fed also predicted that growth will reach between 2.4 percent and 2.9 percent by year’s end, better than previously thought.

But Bernanke remained cautious and said he was poised to act if necessary, amid now-familiar concerns about the housing market, long-term unemployment and public debt.

On the debt issue Bernanke warned Congress the Fed would be unable to stem a US debt crisis if lawmakers failed to get their fiscal house in order.

Using uncharacteristically terse language, he stressed the scope of the problem and the Fed’s limited capacity to handle it.

“The size of the fiscal cliff is such that there’s I think absolutely no chance that the Federal Reserve could or would have the ability whatsoever to offset that effect on the economy,” he said at a news conference following the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting.

The Fed’s assessment of the housing market was also mixed.

“Despite some signs of improvement, the housing sector remains depressed,” the FOMC said in a statement.

Recent housing data showed a surprise drop in new home sales in March, after an equally surprising spurt the month before.

Recent history may explain some of Bernanke’s reticence.

In recent years the US recovery has stalled heading into summer months owing to Middle East revolts, the European debt crisis and the Japanese earthquake.

With that burned into the collective conscience, US economists, policymakers and Wall Street have come to greet glimmers of positive news with a certain scepticism.

There has been “a recurring and almost maddening ‘stop-go’ pattern to this recovery — stronger pulses followed by lulls,” said Joshua Feinman, chief global economist for DB Advisors.

Against this backdrop the Fed kept in place its policy of swapping short-term bonds for those with longer-term maturities — a move that should put downward pressure on real interest rates and stimulate investment.

There was no overall change to the size of the Fed’s balance sheet, but Bernanke said more measures could come.

“We remain entirely prepared to take additional balance sheet actions if necessary to achieve our objectives,” he told reporters.

Although investors had expected little else to come from the meeting, the fact the Fed tacitly admitted the recovery is only moderate and decided to take no new measures about it initially nudged markets downward.

“There were only a few small word changes… but they were notable changes in tone,” said Michael Gapen of Barclays, referring to the March Fed statement.

“That signals to us that the Fed is not expecting to conduct further asset purchases or continue its maturity extension program beyond June.”

But the improved jobs and growth forecasts nudged markets back upward.

The Dow Jones Industrial closed up 0.69 percent, and the Nasdaq 2.3 percent, also helped by strong quarterly earnings from Apple and Boeing.


الإمارات في مجموعة صعبة بالأولمبياد وتواجه المنتخب البريطاني

أوقعت قرعة فعالية كرة القدم في دورة الألعاب الأولمبية (لندن 2012) التي جرت في العاصمة البريطانية، اليوم، منتخبنا الأولمبي في مجموعة قوية ضمت البلد المضيف، بريطانيا (التي ستشارك بفريق موحد يضم لاعبين من انكلترا واسكتلندا وآيرلندا وويلز)، والسنغال والأوروغواي، فيما سيواجه ممثل العرب الثاني، مصر كل من البرازيل وروسيا البيضاء ونيوزلندا، بينما سيلاعب ممثل العرب الثالث، المغرب، كلاً من اسبانيا وهندوراس واليابان.

المجموعة الثانية: المكسيك، كوريا الجنوبية، الغابون، سويسراالمجموعة الأولى: بريطانيا، سنغال، أوروغواي، الإمارات

المجموعة الثالثة: البرازيل، روسيا البيضاء، نيوزلندا، مصر


بـ 10 لاعبين..تشيلسي يلقي ببرشلونة خارج دوري الأبطال

أحزان برشلونة على وجه ميسي وأفراح تشيلسي في عناق الثلاثي دروغبا وتوريس وماتا. أي بي أيه

بلغ فريق تشيلسي الإنكليزي المباراة النهائية من مسابقة دوري ابطال اوروبا لكرة القدم بتعادله مع مضيفه برشلونة الاسباني بطل العام الماضي 2-2، اليوم، في اياب نصف النهائي ليجرد الفريق الكتالوني من لقبه.

وسجل البرازيلي راميريش (1+45) والاسباني فرناندو توريس (1+90) هدفي تشيلسي الذي كان فاز ذهابا 1-صفر، وسيرجيو بوسكيتس (35) واندريس انييستا (43) هدفي برشلونة.

ويلتقي تشيلسي في النهائي الذي يحتضنه ملعب “اليانز ارينا” في ميونيخ في 19 الشهر المقبل، مع الفائز من مواجهة اليوم الاربعاء بين ريال مدريد الاسباني وضيفه بايرن ميونيخ الالماني، وكانت نتيجة مباراة الذهاب بين الفريقين انتهت بفوز الفريق البافاري 2-1.