World Bank urges Israel to remove Palestine restrictions

Palestinian children do their homework during a power cut in Gaza City on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 12 September 2017
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World Bank urges Israel to remove Palestine restrictions

JERUSALEM: Even in the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, steps can be taken now that could significantly brighten a gloomy Palestinian economic situation, according to the World Bank (WB).
In a new report, the WB said addressing external constraints on the Palestinian economy “is the most important factor” in any turnaround, but the Palestinian Authority, which administers limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank, also had to do its part to cut red tape stifling business activity.
Removing Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement in so-called Area C in the occupied West Bank — where Israel maintains civil and security control — could boost the size of the West Bank economy by one-third in eight years, the WB said.
“Such growth would not only be enabled by better access to critical scarce resources, notably land and water, but also other natural resources that would allow Palestinian businesses to take advantage of Area C’s comparative advantages in agriculture, mining and quarrying, and tourism,” it said.
Area C, designated by interim peace deals signed in the 1990s, represents 61 percent of West Bank territory, and Israel cites security concerns for the restrictions it imposes there.
According to the WB, currently less than 1 percent of Area C, which is already built up, is designated by the Israeli authorities for Palestinian use, while the remainder is heavily restricted or off-limits to Palestinians.
The report noted recent “encouraging but limited measures” announced by Israel to allow a Palestinian industrial zone and the municipal boundaries of the Palestinian city of Qalqilya to expand into Area C.
As for the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, where Israel and Egypt maintain tight border restrictions, alleviating restrictions on the movement of goods and people would allow critical trade to rebuild the territory’s infrastructure and economy following the 2014 war.
Drop in donor aid
Conflict in Gaza and a drop in foreign donor aid combined to slow real average annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to 2 percent between 2013 and 2016. It dropped to 0.7 percent in the first quarter of 2017, the World Bank said.
“Under a baseline scenario which assumes that the current Israeli restrictions remain in place and no improvement in the domestic economic and political environment, real GDP growth of the Palestinian economy is projected to reach 3 percent in 2017: 2.7 percent in the West Bank and 4 percent in Gaza,” the report added.
“This growth level implies a near stagnation in real per capita income and an increase in unemployment.”
Based on second quarter 2017 figures cited by the bank, employment in the West Bank, home to some 2.6 million people, is at 21 percent, and 44 percent in the Gaza Strip, which has a population of 2 million.


Assad forces target fighters near Golan Heights

Nearly half of Syria's pre-war population of 23 million have been uprooted from their homes. AP
Updated 2 min 45 sec ago
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Assad forces target fighters near Golan Heights

  • Regime forces fired more than 800 missiles at an area between northern Daraa and the Quneitra countryside
  • In Daraa, the evacuation deal will hand over areas held by the fighters for years back to regime control

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces unleashed hundreds of missiles on an opposition-held area near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Sunday, activists said, the latest phase in an offensive to clear southern Syria of insurgents.
The regime’s push came after it had secured control of most of Daraa province in an offensive that began in June. On Sunday, the first batch of armed fighters and their families left the city of Daraa, the provincial capital, in buses that would take them to the opposition-held Idlib province in the north.
Similar deals in other parts of Syria resulted in the evacuation of thousands of opposition fighters and civilians — evacuations that the UN and rights groups have decried as forced displacement.
Syrian President Bashar Assad said Sunday the success in driving the opposition out of Daraa embodies the will of his army and allied forces to “liberate all of Syrian territories” of “terrorism.”
In recent months and backed by Russian air force, the Syrian regime has restored control of over 60 percent of previously opposition-held territory across the country.
Assad spoke during a meeting on Sunday with visiting Iranian Foreign Ministry official Hossein Jaberi Ansari. Assad’s office said the two agreed that the “elimination of terrorism in most of the Syrian territory has laid the most appropriate ground to reach results at the political level” that could put an end to Syria’s war.
Syria’s regime refers to all armed opposition groups as “terrorists” and accuses the West, Turkey, Israel and regional countries of supporting them.
The statement came a day before President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin are to meet in Finland. Syria is expected to feature highly on the agenda. Russia is a major Assad ally.
In Daraa, the evacuation deal will hand over areas held by the fighters for years back to regime control. Daraa, which lies on a highway linking Damascus with Jordan, was the cradle of the 2011 uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Since early Sunday, regime forces turned their missiles toward a stretch of land controlled by the armed opposition in northern Daraa and the countryside of adjacent Quneitra.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces fired more than 800 missiles at an area between northern Daraa and the Quneitra countryside, about 4 kilometers, or 2.5 miles, from the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
The Observatory said government forces advanced on Massharah, a village in Quneitra, and rebels fought back in intense clashes that killed several pro-government fighters. The pro-Syrian regime Central Military Media said a number of insurgents were killed in the clashes.
The Observatory reported airstrikes in Massharah, the first in over a year to hit the Quneitra countryside. It also reported airstrikes in a nearby village in northern Daraa, where regime forces have been trying to retake a key hill there after failing to reach a deal with the fighters. Capturing the hill would enable them to advance on militants in the area linked to Daesh.
Daraa activist Abou Mahmoud Hourani said an estimated 400 members of the armed opposition and their families will be evacuated out of Daraa.
Pro-regime TV Al-Ikhbariya said 10 buses carrying 407 people left for northern Syria.
The station said the evacuation of nearly 1,000 people was likely to be completed by Sunday.