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Bethlehem industrial park to open in February

Jan. 15, 2011 11:05 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 18, 2011 1:54 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Costs for the preparation of the Bethlehem Industrial park have run past $1 million, the head of the project's board of directors told Ma'an, adding that the initiative was expected to provide upward of 1,800 Palestinian jobs.

A deal to open the park was signed between developers and the Palestinian Authority in March 2010. A French-Palestinian initiative, the Bethlehem Multi Purpose Industrial Park attracted French government support, and saw French Bank Natixis sign agreements in Bethlehem with five Palestinian banks which will see €5 million in grants from the French government available as loans from local banks to Palestinian private companies or French-Palestinian joint-ventures.

During an interview with Ma'an radio, head of the board for the park Samir Hazboun said that progress was quick in the preparations for the park.

Already, he said, the administrative building was underway, and would be soon ready to serve as the headquarters for the zone, providing logistic coordination for the park.

Roads, a water treatment plant and electricity generation station were almost complete, Hazboun explained, adding that several French companies were preparing to sign contracts to begin work in the zone.

The facility is expected to open, and production start, in early February, Hazboun said. Once it runs at full capacity, some 1,800 jobs for engineers, laborers, management and support services are expected to be created.

News of the expected jobs comes as the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics released a report saying the number of Palestinians working in Israel and in Israeli settlements rose from nine to 10 percent during 2010. The rise came despite PA efforts to boycott work in Israeli settlements.

Workers and advocates had said when the ban was announced, that it would be impossible for workers to stop laboring in settlements since there were no alternative jobs in the Palestinian sector. As a result, the ban has not been imposed, but government officials have said they are working to support Palestinian business initiatives that will provide alternative jobs in the coming year.

Pending the success of the project, the board member said, the group could move forward with plans to construct a 1,500 square meter factory on the site.

While the park was designed to attract new manufacturers, Hazboun said that it would welcome established companies moving into the zone, as long as they agreed to adhere to the environmental principals laid out by the management.

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