* Companies receives pledge from Blair over frequency
* Middle East envoy Blair welcomes launch of Wataniya
* Network launches with 40,000 users
(Adds Blair statement in paragraphs 4, 6)
By Ali Sawafta
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Nov 1 Wataniya Palestine
launched its mobile phone service in the West Bank on Sunday
even though Israel has yet to release the full range of
frequencies agreed upon for the network, Palestinian officials
Mohammad Mustafa, head of the Wataniya Palestine board,
said the company had begun functioning with a frequency range
of 3.8 MHz, less than the 4.8 MHz Israel had agreed to open
under an agreement with the Palestinian Authority signed last
"They will give us the additional 1 MHz as soon as
possible," Mustafa told Reuters, adding that Tony Blair, envoy
for the international Quartet of Middle East peace mediators,
had promised the company it would acquire the remaining
A statement from Blair's office said he welcomed the launch
of Wataniya and had received assurances from Israel that the
remaining frequencies would be released.
"Mr. Blair urged the Government of Israel to release the
remaining 1MHz of frequency as soon as possible," the statement
The establishment of Wataniya, the second mobile operator
in the West Bank, has been backed by the World Bank and the
U.S. government as part of efforts to boost support for
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Western-backed
Blair said the launch would "provide a welcome boost to the
Palestinian Authority and the government's work to attract Arab
and international investment."
The dispute between Israel and the Palestinians over
frequency for the network has been dragging on for more than
two years. As occupying power, Israel controls the airwaves of
the West Bank, where 2.5 million Palestinians live.
An Israeli official said last month the remaining
frequencies would be released once the Palestinians had met
their part of the agreement, but did not detail what the
unfulfilled commitments were.
Wataniya Palestine is owned by Kuwait's National Mobile
Telecommunications Co NMTC.KW, a unit of Qatar
Telecommunications Co QTEL.QA and a holding company for
Palestinian public assets.
It enters the market alongside a network operated by the
Palestine Telecommunications Co (PalTel), until now the sole
provider. PalTel, which has about 1.5 million subscribers in
the West Bank and Gaza Strip, is majority owned by Kuwait's
Mobile Telecommunications Co (Zain) (ZAIN.KW).
Wataniya Palestine had hoped to launch its service by Oct.
15, and had threatened to pull out if it could not have the
full 4.8 MHz agreed to by Israel. In June, the company demanded
its investment back unless the frequencies were opened.
The company has invested some $270 million on
infrastructure in addition to a license fee of $140 million
paid to the Palestinian Authority.
Mustafa said Wataniya Palestine would begin operations with
40,000 users who had registered during a promotional campaign
launched a month ago. Mashoor Abu Dakka, Palestinian
telecommunications minister, said there would be a "long-term
battle" for the release of the remaining frequency.
"The Israeli side didn't commit to what it had promised.
But we wanted the company to become a reality," he said.
(Writing and additional reporting by Tom Perry in Jerusalem,
editing by Maureen Bavdek)