Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques asserts to Jordan monarch Saudi Arabia’s support for the Hashemite kingdom

Saudi Arabia’s Mufti refutes fatwa attributed to a committee he chairs

Egypt adopts economic strategy to enhance confidence in national economy

Ashton in Lebanon: International resolutions, including STL rulings, have to be respected

Israel enhances readiness, threatens Lebanon invasion

Hezbollah’s Nasrallah threatens to “liberate” Galilee

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud made a telephone call to His Majesty King Abdullah II Bin Al-Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

During the conversation, they reviewed the overall developments at the Arab and international arenas.

In particular, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques reassured King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is stand by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, King, Government and people with their interests, security, safety and prosperity.

Meanwhile, Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al Al-Sheikh, the Kingdom's Mufti and Chairman of the Senior Ulema, Religious Research Administration and Ifta Standing Committee, refuted as categorically false lies and forged statement a web report that the Committee has issued a Fatwa describing Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda organization as on the right track and that Al-Qaeda is an Islamic Caliphate system.

In a statement, Al Al-Shiekh cited a number of verses from the holy Quran and sayings of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) showing that lying in the name of senior Ulema is itself a capital crime.

The statement called for severe punishment on those who spread such lies.

On the other hand, Sheikh Saleh bin Abdullah Kamel, President of the Saudi Commerce and Industry Chamber and Chairman of Jeddah Commerce and Industry Chamber, disclosed that a Saudi developmental bank with a capital of one billion Egyptian pound would be established in Egypt at an initiative of businessmen to help alleviate the current economic situation in Egypt following the recent incidents.

During a meeting of the Saudi Egyptian Business Council in Jeddah, attended by the Egyptian Commercial Minister Plenipotentiary at the Egyptian Consulate in Jeddah Saeed Al-Anani, Kamel stated that the bank would be announced within the coming two months and would be oriented for long-term investments.

He said the losses incurred by the Saudi Egyptian joint investments are of operational nature, noting that the assets of those investments were not harmed.

Saudi investors will not quit Egypt and its attractive growth opportunities in spite of the political turmoil that has hit the north African country's financial markets and sent its currency to a six-year low.

An uprising in Egypt which started two weeks ago has paralyzed the country, as protesters demanded an end to President Hosni Mubarak's three decades of rule.

Egypt's main stock market index is down 21 percent this year and its financial markets have been shut for eight working days.

However, builder Construction Products Holding Company (CPC), an affiliate of conglomerate Saudi Binladin Group, is standing by Egypt.

"The Egyptian market has great importance for CPC's investments," said Faisal Ibrahim al Aqil, director of business and administration affairs development. "The board is confident and optimistic the crisis will be resolved soon and things will go back to normal."

Investment firm Abdul Muhsin Al Hokair Holding, which invests in shopping malls and other services, said it would stick to its investment plans in Egypt despite a fall in its business there of between 30 and 40 percent in recent days.

"Our strategy and work is continuing. We have great confidence in the Egyptian market," said Chairman Abdul Muhsin Al Hokair.

Some Saudi companies are less optimistic, however, such as travel agency Al Tayyar Group, which has some $26.67m of investment in Egypt.

"Our operations declined by nearly 30 percent," said Nasser Al Tayyar, the firm's president. "We are seriously thinking of not paying salaries if the crisis continues."

Saudi Arabia is one of Egypt's biggest trade partners and Saudis are leading investors in its stock market, tourism, aviation, real estate and agriculture sectors. Some two million Egyptians live and work in Saudi Arabia, providing cheap labor.

Saudi investments in Egypt are estimated at $4.6-5 billion, said Abdullah Dahlan, head of the Saudi-Egyptian Business Council, adding some companies working in Egypt expect their production to run at lower capacity for several months.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s Minister of Trade & Industry Samiha Fawzi stated in Cairo that she placed a strategy based on three axes to restore confidence in national economy, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported.

She pointed out that the new democratic environment in the country will better the investments. She's planning, as she announced this week, to conduct a meeting with all existing foreign embassies in Egypt, illustrating current economy.

Fawzi further stated that she's coordination with executive bodies for a visit to most major markets, marketing investment in Egypt.

The minister stressed on that the responsibility for reformation of Egypt falls, largely, on the commercial sectors to restore calm within the market.

Egyptian Minister of Finance Samir Radwan said that Egypt’s economy may need a stimulus package to help create jobs.

“There is a need for a stimulus package that is very closely related to employment,” Radwan said in a telephone interview from Cairo. The government will run the daily affairs of the country until further instructions from the military council that Mubarak left in charge, he said.

More than two weeks of unprecedented protests against Mubarak’s three-decade rule left about 300 people dead, according to United Nations estimates. The turmoil hit exports, tourism and raised borrowing costs for the government.

The unrest may slow economic growth in the fiscal year through June to about 4 percent, though “it’s still too early to tell,” Radwan said.

Authorities had forecast the economy would expand as much as 6 percent before the crisis. He declined to give a forecast for the budget gap, which widened in the last fiscal year to 8.1 percent of gross domestic product from 6.9 percent in the previous 12 months.

Emergency fiscal measures the government took in the past two weeks didn’t have an impact on the budget deficit, Radwan said. “They were done through savings from the budget,” he said.

About 9 percent of Egyptians were unemployed before the crisis, according to the state-run statistics agency.

Unemployment among people between the ages of 20 and 25 was 28 percent in the last quarter of 2008, according to a paper Radwan wrote for the International Labor Organization in April 2009.

Radwan, a former senior economist at the ILO, was named finance minister on Jan. 31 after Mubarak fired the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif in what proved to be a failed attempt to placate the protesters.

Among Radwan’s first actions was creating a 5-billion Egyptian pound ($850-million) fund to compensate people who lost property during the unrest and to pay benefits for those who became unemployed as a result of the crisis.

The government also gave permanent contracts to as many as 600,000 people who were listed as temporary workers, Radwan said. “They basically had no rights,” he said.

The army will need to stay on the streets until a disgraced police force recovers from the heavy damage inflicted by Egypt's turmoil — an uncomfortable burden for a military designed to fight foreign enemies, not crime.

A quick redeployment of the police, which largely dissolved in the first days of the unrest, is a priority for the military command that took control from former President Hosni Mubarak. It will not be easy.

One of the simpler tasks is repairing the many police stations burned in anti-Mubarak protests fuelled by deep hatred of the Interior Ministry, which employs over a million people.

While some traffic police are back on the streets, large sections of the police force are not. Some policemen have gone on strike, like many other state employees, and morale is low.

So is public confidence in a force that was seen to play a leading role in Mubarak's failed efforts to crush the revolt.

Police branches regarded as political tools of the ousted president's administration face an uncertain future. Their reputation for brutality helped ignite the uprising.

The military may purge or even scrap the most reviled branches — state security intelligence and the secret police.

Anything less risks a backlash from the protesters.

"The fall of the regime is a turning point because, perhaps for the first time, this security apparatus can be restructured," said Safwat al-Zayyat, a retired Egyptian army officer and an expert on security affairs.

The military would begin "to restructure and reorder" parts of the security forces that were the focus of popular anger, especially the secret police and state security apparatus.

With their political masters gone, rank-and-file policemen are worried they will be made scapegoats.

Habib al-Adli, interior minister for 13 years under Mubarak, was one of the first heads to roll. Mubarak sacked him in the early days of the protests. He is now banned from travel and faces official investigation on accusations of corruption.

Low-ranking police who struggle to make ends meet on meager wages have gone on strike, further complicating the job of Adli's successor, Mahmoud Wagdy. Hundreds of police in uniform and plainclothes protested at the Interior Ministry.

Gunshots rang out during the strike. A security guard said they were warning shots fired in the air.

"I've been working for 12 years and my salary is 678 pounds ($115)," said a policeman who gave his name only as Ayman.

"What do you want us to do? This guy (former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli) taught us to be cowards. Our police hospital is being used to treat businessmen and rich people."

Hisham, another low-ranking police officer, said he had served for 21 years and was paid 800 pounds a month.

"The high-ranking officers are the ones who used to get all privileges and we were left to starve. We were told if we don't like it, we can take money from the people," he said.

"We don't have rights, bonuses, or anything. We are not treated as human beings. We work for 12 hours or 24 hours and if we don't like it we get put on trial," said Yasser Ferghali, a police officer at a sit-in at a police station.

He listed seven police stations where strikes were under way the same day. Junior officers worry that they will be blamed for the recent violence and face military prosecution.

"Our lives are over, that's it, finished, we'll all be sent to a military court," Ferghali said. "We can barely feed our children."

In a protest in Ismailia, police conscripts with the same demands told passersby they had been ordered to fire on protesters by their commanding officers. Showing some sympathy, Egyptians watching their protest said it was time for a fresh start in relations between police and the people.

The military council, in a statement this week, called on Egyptians to "co-operate with the civilian police". Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the council, met Wagdy and discussed the need for a prompt redeployment of the police.

With the resources he has, one of Wagdy's first tasks is to round up 13,000 prisoners still on the run out of 23,000 who walked out of jails in unexplained circumstances early in the uprising. Wagdy has said that 10,000 have been recaptured.

Omar Suleiman, vice president for two weeks until Mubarak was toppled, said the escapees included top security detainees, including members of al-Qaeda and other militant Islamist groups.

Beyond the political unrest, Egyptians are taking pride in the extent to which basic law and order has prevailed, thanks mainly to the civic spirit of people who formed neighborhood watch groups to deter looters who ran amok only for a few days.

But there are concerns that as euphoria over Mubarak's departure dissipates, crime will increase.

"On Friday, in Cairo, some 10 million people were in the streets celebrating, without police to arrange the traffic . . . with no internal security force presence," Zayat said.

With tanks and other armored vehicles at every major junction, the army may reduce its presence in the streets, he said. "It will be present, but perhaps not like this."

Meanwhile, Shipments of Egyptian gas to Israel, which were due to resume on Thursday after an attack on a pipeline in Sinai, have been delayed until later in the month, one of the pipeline's owners said.

Gas imports to Israel were halted as a precaution on February 5 following an attack on a pipeline supplying Jordan.

Ampal-American Israel Corporation, which owns 12.5 percent of the East Mediterranean Gas Company (EMG) that owns the pipeline between the two neighbors, said supplies were "expected to resume late this month."

"The delay is due to a hold-up in repair work on a GASCO pipeline," it said in a statement, referring to infrastructure owned by the Egyptian National Gas Company.

In the attack, "a small part of a GASCO pipeline serving EMG was damaged as a result of an explosion and subsequent fire in a metering station along a separate GASCO-owned and operated gas pipeline from Egypt to Jordan," Ampal said.

The damaged metering station is located 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the EMG-operated pipeline from Egypt's El-Arish to Ashkelon in southern Israel, the company said.

It remains unclear who carried out the attack, which coincided with an unprecedented wave of mass protests across Egypt that led last week to the overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt supplies about 40 percent of Israel's natural gas which is used to produce electricity. In December, four Israeli firms signed 20-year contracts worth up to $10 billion (7.4 billion euros) to import Egyptian gas.

In Lebanon, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton urged the country's next cabinet to remain committed to a UN-backed tribunal into the 2005 assassination of ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri.

"I encouraged them to guarantee Lebanon's commitment to abide with ... its international obligations," said Ashton after meeting President Michel Sleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri and prime minister designate Najib Mikati.

The European Union expects Mikati's incoming government to abide by all UN Security Council resolutions, including those relating to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is expected to implicate Hezbollah in Hariri's death.

"I made the point that the EU is looking forward to a government program which will take on board these elements and advance Lebanon's reform agenda," Ashton told reporters.

Hariri's son, outgoing prime minister Saad Hariri, has been at loggerheads with the Iranian-back Hezbollah for months over the tribunal, leading to the collapse in January of his unity government.

The Shiite militant group, which has accused the tribunal of being a US-Israeli conspiracy, has said it would defend itself if it is named in any indictments.

Western-backed Hariri said, during the sixth anniversary of his father's death in a suicide bombing along Beirut's seafront, he would not join the cabinet of Mikati, who was appointed prime minister with Hezbollah's support.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Lebanon's Hezbollah against any attack, after the Shiite militia threatened to take over the Galilee in northern Israel.

"Nasrallah declared today that he will conquer the Galilee," said Netanyahu, referring to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. "I have news for him. He won't."

His remarks came after Nasrallah urged his fighters to be prepared to take Galilee in any future conflict and warned that militants with the Shiite militia were ready to kill Israeli leaders "anytime, anywhere."

"There is no doubt Israel has the ability to defend itself," Netanyahu told delegates at a conference of American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.

"We have a strong army and a determined people. We seek peace but the army is ready to defend Israel against its enemies."

Nasrallah's threats were made during a televised speech the 19th anniversary of the death of key Hezbollah militant Abbas Mussawi who was killed when an missile struck his car in an attack blamed on Israel.

"I say to the fighters of the Islamic Resistance: Be ready. If a new war is imposed on Lebanon we may ask you to take Galilee, to free Galilee," he said. "I hope the people of Israel have good bomb shelters."

Nasrallah also vowed that the death of Imad Mughnieh, killed in a February 2008 car bombing also blamed on Israel, would not be forgotten or go unpunished.

"To the Zionist generals, I say: Anywhere you go in the world, at any time, watch out, for the blood of Imad Mughnieh will not go to waste," he said.

The Hezbollah leader's fiery rhetoric followed remarks by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak that the Israeli military may have to enter Lebanon again to ensure the Shiite militia remembered the lessons of the 2006 war.

"Even though it's quiet and deterrence exists -- Hezbollah remembers the heavy beating they suffered from us in 2006 -- it is not forever, and you may be called to go back again," Barak said during a tour of the northern border with the new military Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.

"We must be prepared for every test," he said. "The secret is reacting fast in the event that something happens, and within seconds, translating everything you learned in your training." The 2006 war killed 1,200 people in Lebanon, most of them civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Every year around the anniversary of the militants' deaths, Israel issues a travel warning and puts its overseas embassies on alert for fear of reprisal attacks.

Israel temporarily closed four of its diplomatic missions after receiving threats they could come under attack.

And last week, Israel's anti-terrorism bureau warned against travel to Egypt and eight other countries, saying there was an increased threat of attacks against Israelis and Jewish targets in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Georgia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Turkey and Venezuela.

Top Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh was killed in a car bombing in Damascus on February 12, 2008, while Abbas Mussawi, the group's secretary general, was killed by an Israeli missile on February 16, 1992.