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GCC summit opens with Gaza issue high on agenda
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The 29th annual summit of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) kicked off in the Omani capital of Muscat on Monday.

Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said inaugurated the two-day summit, saying that great accomplishments have been achieved since the establishment of GCC, which brings security and stability to the Gulf region.

He pointed out that the freedom given to the private sectors of GCC member states enabled the bloc to achieve a comprehensive development.

He, meanwhile, stressed the need of stable oil prices, saying that to maintain a balanced economic development requires the stability of oil prices in the world market.

The economic summit opens on the third day of an ongoing Israeli bombing campaign, which has killed 345 Palestinians and wounded over 1,600.

Sources close to Omani officials said the six leaders will discuss Israel's intensive strikes on the Gaza Strip, in order to reach a vision that could contribute to a common Arab action to stop the massive Israeli military operation.

Besides the bloodshed in Gaza, the main topics of this year's heads of state meeting are a final roadmap for the bloc's monetary union and the impact of the global financial crisis on the oil- rich region.

On Sept. 17, GCC's finance ministers have hammered out a draft agreement on the monetary union, which will be referred to heads of state for approval at the Muscat summit. The Gulf officials did not disclose details of the agreement or proposed location of a common central bank.

Convinced by the success of euro zone, the Gulf leaders decided in 2001 to set up a monetary union and adopt a single GCC currency in 2010, a key step toward full regional economic integration.

However, Oman announced in 2006 that it would not join the single currency by the self-imposed 2010 deadline, and Kuwait said in 2007 that it will peg its currency dinar with a basket of main currencies instead of the dollar alone, giving a further blow to the tentative project.

Established in 1981, GCC is a regional political and economic alliance aimed at enhancing cooperation among its six member countries.

The GCC groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which pumps 16 million barrels of crude oil per day and possesses about 45 percent of the world's proven crude reserves.

(Xinhua News Agency December 30, 2008)

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