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Palestine's Wataniya Mobile sets network deadline

Telco gives Sept. 15 deadline for access to frequencies, otherwise will seek compensation

Telco gives Sept. 15 deadline for access to frequencies, otherwise will seek compensation.
Telco gives Sept. 15 deadline for access to frequencies, otherwise will seek compensation.

Palestine's Wataniya Mobile said it has set a deadline for the release of frequencies needed for the launch of its mobile phone network, or else will ask for licence fee returns and other financial compensation.

The company, awarded the license by the Palestinian Authority to build a new mobile network, has set a Sept. 15 deadline, a month before the network's launch date, for the release of the necessary frequencies, the firm said in statement on Sunday.

Wataniya Mobile said it had been provided with frequencies that fall below the minimum needed to launch the network. "In the event that minimum radio spectrum is not allocated to meet the launch schedule, WM must pursue remedies which may include demands for refund of its license fee payment and other damages," the statement said.

Wataniya Mobile is owned by Kuwait's National Mobile Telecommunications Co (Wataniya), a unit of Qatar Telecommunications Co (Qtel), as well as a holding company for Palestinian public assets.

Palestinian minister of communications, Mashhour Abu Daqqa, told Reuters the Palestinian Authority would ask international powers to press Israel to cover financial costs that would result from a possible Wataniya pull-out from the deal.

"The Israeli side, as usual, is stalling in fulfilling its commitments. The Israeli side should pay for the financial costs, and we will demand that they do so," Daqqa said.

He said the Palestinian Authority asked Israel to release some 4.8 megahertz in frequencies but it only agreed to the release of 3.8 megahertz.

He added that should the deal fall apart and Israel refuse to cover costs, the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority would have no choice but to ask donors to compensate Wataniya.

Israel says it has limited available frequencies, a large number of which are reserved for its military.

Mohammed Mustafa, president of the Palestinian Investment Fund, said despite the deadline set by Wataniya there was still hope that the United States and the European Union, key backers of the project, would sway Israel to issue all the frequencies.

He said Wataniya had until now invested some $270 million on infrastructure, as well as an additional $140 million in licensing fees to the Palestinian Authority.

The US government and the World Bank have given backing to Wataniya Mobile and Middle East envoy Tony Blair has pressed Israel to release the frequencies, as a way to jumpstart the Palestinian economy and boost support for Mahmoud Abbas and his Western-backed government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Wataniya Mobile signed a license agreement with the Palestinian Authority in 2007 after bidding 251 million Jordanian dinars ($354.3 million) to build and operate a new network in a challenge to Palestine Telecommunications Co (PalTel).

Mobile Telecommunications Co (Zain), Kuwait's largest mobile operator, took a majority stake in PalTel in June. (Reuters)