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GCC wraps up summit with approval of monetary union
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The 29th annual summit of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) wrapped up in the Omani capital of Muscat late Tuesday, with six Gulf leaders approving the monetary union accord.

The accord still waits for ratification of the member states from now till the end of next year.

The leaders agreed to set up a monetary council, which will evolve into the Gulf central bank. The location of the monetary authority has not been decided yet and will be discussed from now until the middle of next year.

The accord also said the single currency is to be issued in 2010 in accordance with the plan, unless the monetary council decides something else.

However, the host Oman said it cannot join the single currency in 2010, so it could be issued initially in other Gulf nations.

Established in 1981, GCC is a regional political and economic alliance aimed at enhancing cooperation among its six member countries, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

On the timetable of its economic integration, the bloc launched a customs union in 2003 and a common market came into being in 2007. Convinced by the success of euro zone, the Gulf leaders decided in 2001 to set up a monetary union and adopt a single currency in 2010.

On Sept. 17, GCC's finance ministers have hammered out a draft agreement on the monetary union, which involves a single currency and a unified Gulf monetary authority, two key steps toward economic integration.

The draft deal was referred to heads of state and finally got greenlighted at the Muscat summit, paving the way for a unified currency for the world's largest oil-exporting region.

GCC condemns Israel attacks

The economic summit was held at a time coinciding with an ongoing Israeli bombing campaign, which has killed more than 380 Palestinians and wounded over one thousand.

The Gulf leaders condemned on late Tuesday the Israeli military operation on Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, saying Israel should shoulder the responsibility in pushing situation into such a dangerous level.

The leaders also expressed "deep concern and great dismay" of the Israeli "brutal aggression" against the Palestinian people and the large numbers of deaths, injuries and destruction of property.

They also called on the international community to shoulder its responsibilities to take immediate action to stop the Israeli attacks and to protect the Palestinian people.

The summit also emphasize the need of a unified Arab stance over Gaza at the upcoming Arab foreign ministers meeting, an Omani source said Tuesday.

The bloc calls on the Arab countries to put aside differences on the Gaza issue, in order to enable the Arab countries to help the Palestinian people and lift the siege on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

However, the unified Arab stance on Gaza crisis looks overshadowed, as the regional leaders are still divided over hold an emergency summit to discuss Israel's four-day assault against Gaza.

Qatar offered to host the emergency Arab summit in Doha but diplomatic sources revealed that some states do not favor such meeting.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal made reservations toward holding the emergency summit in Doha, saying "There is no point in attending an Arab summit for statements, without having the right conditions for success and influence."

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit was quoted in media reports as saying that such a summit "could be dangerous and subject to criticism, especially if it does not result in practical measures."

The foreign ministers from 22-member Arab League are due to meet in Cairo on Wednesday in an emergency session to discuss the Israeli offensive on Gaza and to decide about the extraordinary Arab summit which has been proposed on Friday.

(Xinhua News Agency December 31, 2008)

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