October 24, 2017 / 11:19 AM / 2 months ago

Second Palestinian mobile operator launches in Gaza

* Wataniya Mobile invests $40 million in Gaza in first stage

* Company already operates in Israeli-occupied West Bank

* Palestinians in Gaza, West Bank have only 2G service

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, Oct 24 (Reuters) - A Palestinian cellular provider launched Gaza’s second mobile telephone network on Tuesday, a commercial boost for the territory as a Palestinian political unity drive gains speed.

The network was established by Wataniya Mobile Palestine . The company, a subsidiary of Qatar’s Ooredoo Group, already operates a cellular service in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Gaza’s first cellular network, operated by Jawwal, a firm owned by the PalTel Group, launched in the enclave in 1999. Jawwal also has a West Bank network.

“This is the largest such investment Gaza has known in nearly two decades,” Durgham Maraee, Wataniya Mobile’s chief executive officer, told a crowd at the ceremony to announce the launch.

Haitham Abu Shaaban, Wataniya Mobile’s director of Gaza operations, said the company had invested $40 million in the territory so far and “the plan is to reach $60 million”, adding another $20 million to upgrade networks and infrastructure.

Earlier this month, the Islamist Hamas group, which has run Gaza since seizing it in a brief civil war in 2007, handed administrative control of the territory to the rival Palestinian Authority as part of Egyptian-brokered unity efforts.

Palestinian Telecommunication Minister Allam Moussa said the launch of the new cellular provider in Gaza would result in more jobs and lead to technological development. Two million people live in the territory, where unemployment is around 40 percent. Wataniya Mobile said it already employs 850 people in Gaza.

Both Wataniya Mobile and Jawwal offer only 2G services in the Gaza Strip. Entry of third-generation mobile network equipment is dependent on Israel, which regards Hamas, the dominant armed power in the enclave, as a terrorist group.

In 2015, Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement to allow 3G networks to operate in the West Bank, but it is still unclear when the service will start.

Under interim peace deals Israel has final say in allocating radio frequencies in the West Bank and Gaza. 3G is mobile phone technology that allows users to make calls, texts and access the internet. 2G allows calls and limited data transmission.

Editing by Jeffrey Heller/Mark Heinrich

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