UAE firm eyes Gaza settlement homes

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres has backed an offer by a UAE property magnate to buy up Gaza settlement homes after Israel's planned withdrawal.

    Emaar Properties wants to buy homes vacated by the Israelis

    Muhammad al-Abbar – who is also a top official in the United Arab Emirates - held talks with Peres on Friday after briefly meeting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the first publicly reported encounter between officials from the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations.

    Al-Abbar, owner and chairman of Emaar Properties and a director of the Dubai government's Department of Economic Development, proposed buying up houses that will be left empty when Israel uproots 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip later this year.
     
    "Israel wants to preserve in their entirety the settlement infrastructure and is looking for a solution for individual houses," Peres said after meeting al-Abbar. 

    Peres backing

    "We wish to help Palestinians from the Gaza Strip as soon as possible and in the most efficient way," he said, according to a statement from his office.
      

    Israeli settlers are vowing to
    fight the withdrawal plan

    The two agreed to form a joint working party of their staffers.
     
    In Dubai, Emaar Properties said it had decided to form a new company - Emaar Palestine - in the Palestinian Authority area. 

    Friday's meeting followed talks in the West Bank town of Ram Allah on Thursday night between al-Abbar and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and Prime Minister Ahmad Quraya, the statement said.
         
    The official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that Abbas had discussed with Abbar his "participation in investment and reconstruction projects in the Palestinian territories".
      
    Al-Abbar also briefly met Ilan Cohen, director general of Sharon's office, a spokesman for the Israeli premier said.
     
    However, the spokesman said: "Israel is standing by its decision taken last June to demolish individual houses in the settlements," but that it is considering keeping industrial and agricultural installations. 

    Israeli withdrawal
      
    The Israeli cabinet is due to vote on Sunday on Sharon's plan to evacuate all 21 Gaza settlements and another four in the northern West Bank.
     
    Israel's second television channel reported that al-Abbar had offered $56 million for homes at the Gush Katif settlement bloc in the southern Gaza Strip.
      
    Emaar, which lists the Dubai government as the largest of its 41,000 shareholders and boasts of a $7.7 billion asset base, has 15 projects ongoing in Dubai, one of seven emirates making up the UAE.
      
    These include the Burj Dubai, projected to be the tallest building in the world at about 800m and Dubai Mall, promoted as the world's largest shopping mall.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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