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Palestinians building first residential complex in West Bank

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by Fares Akram, Emad Drimly

RAMALLAH, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- On the hilly road between Nablus and Ramallah, tens of workers have spent their day on a mound to build the first Palestinian residential complex which will provide shelter for some 40,000 people.

The Rawabi (hills) City is said to be the first ambitious project the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has started to carry out since its creation in 1994 with economic and also "political" aims.

The project, sought to be completed by 2014, is designed to ease the population explosion in urban gatherings and, in the longterm, to curb Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank.

The apartment complex, to be built on 630 hectares, will include schools, clinics, a shopping mall and a hotel, which middle-class people with steady income can buy in installments.

"Rawabi is the first attempt by the PNA to depend on Arab and Palestinian private sector's fund in building," said Hassan Abu Libda, Palestinian Economy Minister.

"It will also give a chance to expand the construction in the outskirts of the West Bank cities," he added.

The Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank, home to nearly 2.5 million Palestinians, have prevented the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations from restarting since the end of Israel's war on Gaza in January 2009.

"This is the biggest project of such kind in the Palestinian territories since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967," said Bashar al-Massri, chairman of Massar company which is carrying out the construction.

"The project will provide 10,000 job opportunities, which will leave tangible progress on the economy," he added.

Qatari Diar, a real estate investment company based in Doha, is the key Arabic investor of the project which costs more than 700 million U.S. dollars.

It is hoped that the project will revive the Palestinian light industry, from door and window producing and fixing, to interior and exterior fitting-up.

However, due to the lack of cement factories in the West Bank, concrete steel should be imported.

Al-Massri is optimistic that "if the project succeeds, it will encourage more Arabs to invest into enterprises in the West Bank."

Local and Arab investors of the project have relieved the stress of the cash-strapped PNA.

"The Palestinian government won't be burdened with anything in the fiscal implementation of the project," says Ghassan al-Khatib, a government spokesman.

He added the PNA has not consulted with Israel over the project since it will be located on areas where the PNA has full control.

Al-Khatib also denied reports that the project will be used as a future peace solution with Israel to settle the Palestinian refugees, one of the most difficult issues in the final status negotiations.