Gaza: Historic Gateway’s Huge Potential as a Mediterranean Trading Hub

To most people around the world, the word ‘Gaza’ conjures up images of rockets and bombs, wars, poverty and invasion, never mind the appalling conditions in which many of its residents live as a result of the ongoing Israeli blockade and, most recently, the massive Israeli attack on the enclave — its third in the past six years. But, while one international commentator wrote recently, “It’s not too fanciful to see it in the future as the ‘Dubai’ of the Eastern Mediterranean,” Gaza has much more to offer given its 3,000 years of culture and its history as a prosperous trading hub connecting Africa and Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Gaza, by David Roberts. Photo Reproduction, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

Gaza, by David Roberts. Photo Reproduction, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

(Click on the photo to enlarge.)

In the 19th Century, Gaza’s renowned soap factories, like those in Nablus, produced luxury goods that were exported around the world. It’s premium cotton crop, fruits, vegetables and spices were in great demand. Gaza’s merchants catered to a vast array of travelers: European visitors to the Holy Land, caravans from Egypt and North Africa, pilgrims from the Arabian Peninsula and Asia. Its bazaars were regarded as even better than those in Jerusalem.

Founded in the 14th Century, Khan Younis in southern Gaza served as a centre of the caravan trade between Asia and  Africa.  Photo:  Marka, Wikipedia.org

Founded in the 14th Century, Khan Younis in southern Gaza served as a centre of the caravan trade between Asia and Africa. Photo: Marka, Wikipedia.org

Before the latest invasion, the Washington-based International Monetary Fund estimated that Gaza’s GDP would rise by 7 per cent in 2013 and 6.5 per cent this year, figures that any European country would envy. But the destruction by Egypt, as well as Israel, of the underground tunnels, which allowed much needed supplies to be brought in despite the blockade, has ended any hopes that Gaza can survive on its own, never mind grow.

Earlier this year, it was expected that increases in international aid, especially from the European Union and the UN following Israel’s onslaught in November, 2012, would counter some of the setbacks. The rise in development funds, from both government and private sources in the Gulf states – including Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia – was also contributing to a new era of hope and confidence in Gaza. Qatar’s building projects, covering everything from schools, roads and hospitals to new housing and infrastructure projects alone were expected to create some 10,000 jobs by next year.

The University College of Applied Sciences in Gaza.  Many more schools and higher education facilities are needed.  Photo:  Ahmed Fuad.

The University College of Applied Sciences in Gaza. Many more schools and higher education facilities are needed. Photo: Ahmed Fuad.

Surprisingly, until the latest assault, the growing international awareness and support for Gaza’s people had also led to a boom in tourism in the enclaves’ new hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. International solidarity activists, NGO staff and aid officials were helping to boost capacity and business to levels not seen since the Israeli bombardment of late 2008.

Gaza's first five-star luxury hotel, the Al-Mashtal.  Photo:  ArcMed

Gaza’s first five-star luxury hotel, the Al-Mashtal. Photo: ArcMed

The desire of Gaza’s newly rich elite to live in up-to-date, spacious accommodation, combined with the eagerness of its private investors to seek out alternatives to the tunnel trade, helped to fuel a boom in real estate, retail and leisure services, as well as increased demand for international luxury brands.

Meanwhile, a host of recent studies, from the World Bank, Israeli academics and the Gaza-based PalThink research centre have pointed out that concrete measures will also be needed to be introduced by Hamas if Gaza’s huge economic potential is to be realized, even if the Israeli siege is lifted, or substantially eased.

In particular, they cite the need for more institutional support for the private sector, an overhaul of the tax regime, and measures to boost agricultural and industrial productivity, as well as export capacity.

Gaza could produce a huge array of fruits, vegetables, nuts, dates, olive oils and spices for export, if the seige were lifted.  Photo:  The Gaza Kitchen, Just World Books, 2013

Gaza could produce a huge array of fruits, vegetables, nuts, dates, olive oils and spices for export, if the seige were lifted. Photo: The Gaza Kitchen, Just World Books, 2013

Gaza's fishermen used to supply Egypt, Israel and neighbouring Arab states, but Israeli restrictions mean the fishermen cannot even supply domestic demand. Photo:  The Gaza Kitchen, Just World Books, 2013

Gaza’s fishermen used to supply Egypt, Israel and neighbouring Arab states, but Israeli restrictions mean the fishermen cannot even supply domestic demand. Photo: The Gaza Kitchen, Just World Books, 2013

Special attention, they add, should be given to those sectors, such as manufacturing, construction and tourism, which would provide the most jobs. Vocational training projects, as well as a re-vamp of the entire educational system, plus incentives for the ICT and telecoms sector, they say, are urgently needed to help Gaza realize its opportunities in a globalized marketplace.

While the Bank of Palestine and other financial institutions have continued to provide, often under the most difficult circumstances, access to cash and funds in Gaza, Hamas will also need to ensure that any lifting of the Israeli siege, both for business people and cargoes, is accompanied by closer co-ordination of trade and regulations with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Gaza’s dependence on the use of the Israeli shekel (NIS) as its main currency, together with its heavy reliance on money-lenders rather than on banks which can gather deposits and direct them to profitable development projects, could hold up progress in the future as more aid and investment pours in, and as reconstruction begins, once again, in earnest, the reports note.

If Gaza City is to thrive again, Hamas will need to introduce economic and financial reforms, as well as seeking to end the Israeli blockade.  Photo: Al Jazeera English

If Gaza City is to thrive again, Hamas will need to introduce economic and financial reforms, as well as seeking to end the Israeli blockade. Photo: Al Jazeera English

Arab and Islamic tourism to Gaza, as well as to Jerusalem and the West Bank, could also be greatly increased by agreements with Egypt on developing the Sinai Peninsula and the border areas with Gaza, Oman Shaban, the founder and director of the Gaza-based think tank, PalThink, argues. “Tourism in the Sinai Peninsula [which would also benefit Egypt directly] represents a golden opportunity for tens of thousands of Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Jerusalem due to visitor appeal and modest costs,” he maintains.

Dating back to the 13th Century, the Pasha's Palace has been occupied by various rulers of Gaza, from the Mamlukes and Ottomans to Napolean and the British.  The UN is now helping to restore it as a major tourist site.  Photo: UNDP

Dating back to the 13th Century, the Pasha’s Palace has been occupied by various rulers of Gaza, from the Mamlukes and Ottomans to Napolean and the British. The UN is now helping to restore it as a major tourist site. Photo: UNDP

Talks between the PA and Israel that were underway to begin exploiting the rich reserves of natural gas, and possibly oil as well, lying just off Gaza’s shores in the Mediterranean, have also been put on hold. Valued at some $7 billion, they could help to end Gaza’s critical shortage of fuel and electricity as well as providing substantial revenues to build new schools, hospitals, roads, ports and even an airport, as well as vitally needed new water and wastewater facilities. Gas exports either through Egypt or Turkey, could boost the PA’s coffers for years to come, and help to reduce both Gaza and the West Bank’s huge dependence on international aid, speeding up the day when Palestine can become self-sufficient.

Gas reserves valued at $7 billion lying off the coast of Gaza could greatly reduce Palestine's dependence on foreign aid.  Photo:  Michel Chossudovsky

Gas reserves valued at $7 billion lying off the coast of Gaza could greatly reduce Palestine’s dependence on foreign aid. Photo: Michel Chossudovsky

Hamas’s newfound unity with the PA in Ramallah and the solidarity for Gaza shown by Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as by people around the world, bodes well for bringing Gaza into a regional network that could benefit Israel as well as Palestine. But for that to happen, more pragmatic heads will need to surface in Tel Aviv and Cairo, as well as in Gaza City.

© Pamela Ann Smith

This is a publication of investpalestine.wordpress.com and is protected by international copyright laws. This article is for the reader’s personal use only, but may be re-distributed electronically with a credit to investpalestine.com.

An earlier version of this article appeared in the July, 2013 issue of The Middle East magazine.

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London Welcomes Palestinian Businesses

The CEOs and senior executives of some of Palestine’s most successful companies are in London tonight to promote the benefits of investment and trade with the private sector in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

We’ll be reporting more on their visit, which has been organised by The Palestine Trade Centre (PalTrade) and the excitement here that has greeted their upgrades by such prestigious international ratings agencies as S & P and, soon to be confirmed, their inclusion in the all-important “Frontier” markets of the FTSE and MSCI.

Ahmad Aweidah, CEO of PEX, and Ammar Aker, CEO of Paltel, open the London Stock Exchange on 24 June, 2011.

Ahmad Aweidah, CEO of PEX, and Ammar Aker, CEO of Paltel, open the London Stock Exchange on 24 June, 2011.

And that’s not to mention that some of them may also be listed on the London Stock Exchange in the future…a welcome tribute to their success on the Palestine Stock Exchange (PEX), not so much for their share price rises but for the impressive dividends they have paid internationally despite all the adversities they have faced, and continue to face, as well as for their remarkable p/e ratios.

Bank Of Palestine Sponsors The Events Of The World Cup In Palestine.  It's also helping to promote small- and medium-sized businesses in Palestine, especially for women.

Bank Of Palestine Sponsors “The Events Of The World Cup In Palestine.” It’s also helping to promote small- and medium-sized businesses in Palestine, especially for women.

Most importantly, we’ll also be reporting on the vital work companies such as the Bank of Palestine, PalTel and Padico do in supporting social entrepreneurship, sustainable development, the creative arts and scholarships to study abroad, as well as the more traditional charities, in the occupied territories.

Their role, given the hoped-for relaxation of Israeli restrictions on checkpoints, internal and external travel, shipments and communications and on the use of the agricultural riches of the Jordan Valley and “Area C”, could be immense in helping to reduce Palestinian unemployment and increasing the productive output, and exports, of the territories.

And that’s something that the USA, the UK and the European Union are eager to see, given the increased sympathy their publics have for Palestinian rights, as well as the growing reluctance of their taxpayers to provide unending foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah when an end to the Israeli occupation could make Palestine self-sufficient.

Watch this space,

Thanks for reading,

Pam

© Pamela Ann Smith

This is a publication of investpalestine.wordpress.com and is protected by international copyright laws. This article is for the reader’s personal use only, but may be re-distributed electronically with a credit to investpalestine.com.

Hopes Rise for Palestinian Economy

Hopes are rising that 2013 will see a significant improvement in Palestine’s economy after the disappointments of last year. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s pledge to find new ways to promote development in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem is, despite widespread scepticism, also furthering this optimism, not least because he has recognised that this must go hand-in-hand with promoting a sovereign Palestinian state.

Palestine’s Minister of Economy, Jawad Naji Awad Hirzallah, told the Arab media in April, after US President Barack Obama’s visit to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah in March, that “We expect the growth rate in 2013 to be 5 to 6 percent. Against a backdrop of negative economic conditions,” he added, “ this is a good indication of growth.” Last year, Palestine’s services sector, including retail trade and tourism, grew by a remarkable 13.2 per cent, while construction was up 6.5 per cent and information and communications (ICT) 5.9 per cent.

 Not everyone, like this couple in Ramallah, can afford a BMW, but their is a hunger for the luxuries of modern life.  Photo:  Reuters

Not everyone, like this couple in Ramallah, can afford a BMW, but there is a hunger for the luxuries of modern life. Photo: Reuters.

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Editor’s Note: Israeli Elections, Obama’s Inauguration, A General Strike…!

InvestPalestine.com must apologise for being so remiss in not uploading articles that were promised earlier. Hashim Shawa and Fadi Ghandour (see below) have been overtaken by events (starting with the conflict in Gaza in November, never mind the financial crisis facing the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and the Jordanian elections), but we are still promised exclusive interviews with both of them, which we will bring you, when they arrive.

Jordan's King Abdullah in Ramallah, November, 2012.  Photo: Photo: Mohamad Torokman, Reuters.

Jordan’s King Abdullah in Ramallah, November, 2012. Photo: Photo: Mohamad Torokman, Reuters.

Despite the international media’s focus on the rightward shift in the Israeli elections, InvestPalestine.com is impressed by the determination and fortitude of fair-minded Israelis, who have donated their votes to Palestinians in Israel and who are speaking out, courageously, for putting the Palestinian issue back on the agenda, no matter what … just as they are vociferously opposing the Israeli army’s dismantlement (with arrests and injuries) of the tent cities set up by Palestinian protestors in Bab al Shams and Bab al Karama.

Palestinian protesters set up a tent village in the vital "E-1" area between Jerusalem & Bethlehem. Photo: Slobodná Palestína, Facebook.

Palestinian protesters set up a tent village in the occupied West Bank between Jerusalem & Bethlehem. Photo: Slobodná Palestína, Facebook.

The importance of this particular form of protest in the vital “E-1” area between Jerusalem and Bethlehem (mirroring the popular protests against the ‘Separation Wall’ in Bil’lin and elsewhere) cannot be underestimated … as Hanan Ashrawi has pointed out … and, which, we are pleased to note, has caught the imagination of the international press.

Meanwhile, a general strike by public sector workers is planned in the West Bank tomorrow. Despite the Saudis coming up with some funds for the PA to partially pay overdue salaries from November and December, the strike demonstrates, once again, the futility of a “government” that depends on foreign aid, and the importance of promoting a private sector in the West Bank (and Gaza) that can provide sustainable employment.

All of us, outside, need to remember, perhaps, that survival on the land is what counts, and that can only happen if Palestinians have the basics they need to pay their bills, feed their families, and put a roof over their heads. (Like all of us, wherever we are, actually.)

Far away, celebrations were held last night in Washington. But can Obama deliver, despite the US Congress?

Somehow, Michelle's choice of "red" seemed an appropriate sign of the times.  Photo:  Agencies.

Somehow, Michelle’s choice of “red” seems an appropriate sign of the times. Photo: Agencies.

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Next week we will bring you the long-awaited report on Gaza’s Economic Potential.

Meanwhile, its nice to note that our host, WordPress.com, has sent us a message that we are among the leading WordPress sites in terms of:

a) The longest-lasting features (i.e. viewers continue to access our articles dating back to June, 2011), and

b) the number of countries whose viewers have sought us out … at present, more than 93, ranging from the US, the UK and Canada (tops) to others, such as Brazil, Switzerland, Oman, Peru, Thailand, South Africa, Singapore, Azerbaijan, Iraq and New Zealand, who have just discovered us.

Thanks for reading,

Pam

CONGRATULATIONS! … But, A Missed Opportunity?

 The President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (centre), celebrates with members of his delegation and other supporters after the U.N. General Assembly's historic vote to recognise Palestine as its 194th state, New York, 29 November, 2012. Photo:  thestar.com

The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (centre), celebrates with members of his delegation and other supporters after the U.N. General Assembly’s historic vote to recognise Palestine as its 194th state, New York, 29 November, 2012. Photo: thestar.com

(Click on the image to enlarge it.)

A time to celebrate, yes, even though most Palestinians know it will change little on the ground, and, as we’ve already seen, has led to yet more Israeli retaliation.

This is just one of the pictures that went around the world on Thursday, the 29th of November. It shows President Abbas’ delegation to the UN and his advisors.

But …

Twenty black suits & white shirts?

No beards, no kaffiyehs, no colourful headscarves. No sun-dried, wizened farmers (or their wives), no students, no children, no fishermen, no taxi drivers. Just two women.

Where is the PA’s sense of PR?

In front of a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ international audience.

Alas, Palestine’s rich, human diversity wasn’t on view.

What a missed opportunity!

… Pam

P.S. Here’s one example of a picture, taken on the 30th of November in Ramallah, that inspired millions of Palestine’s supporters around the world. With it’s newfound international status, will the PA do more to see that these images reach the widest audiences, as well as including, in its own institutions, a fairer representation of Palestine’s talented population…young and old, women and men, traditional and secular?

The day after…. Palestinians, in all their diversity, celebrate. Photo: Agencies.

(Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Thanks for reading.

Pam

Editor’s Note: Coming Up

As Mahmoud Abbas prepares to go to the UN General Assembly for a vote recognising Palestinian statehood, we’ll be reporting on the consequences on the ground in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, not just the diplomatic repercussions in New York, Washington, Europe and the Arab world.

Talk about the possibility that the the Oslo Accords — and the related Paris Protocol governing economic relations between Israel and the Palestinian territories — could be abolished has huge significance for people and businesses on both sides of the border. Donor funds for the Palestinian Authority could be squeezed even more, threatening the livelihoods of families throughout the West Bank and Gaza.

Ramallah at Night. Will the lights go out? Despite fears, it’s unlikely that international donors will allow the Palestinian Authority, based in Ramallah, to collapse. Photo: CSM.


Most importantly, we’ll be highlighting two entrepreneurs who have made a huge impact on Palestinian lives over the past decades: Hashim Shawa, CEO of the Bank of Palestine, and Fadi Ghandour, the Beirut-born, Jordanian entrepreneur who has fostered a revolution that is not yet fully appreciated: creating new start-ups — with global impact – based on the huge, untapped potential of young Palestinians in the diaspora, as well as providing a superb example of his own struggles creating a successful $700 million company, Aramex.

Hashim Shawa, CEO of the Bank of Palestine, is reaching out to Palestinians everywhere. Photo: Dubai News.


Fadi Ghandour is an “Angel Investor” for new Palestinian start-ups. Photo: Financial Times, London.

Meanwhile, here’s the latest international press coverage, which InvestPalestine.com has obtained in the November issue of The Middle East magazine. (See ‘About’ on the menu at the top of this page.)

Thanks to Palestinian companies like Al Quds Holding, PADICO Holdings and investments by the Nusseibeh family, not to mention another international success story, CCC — and these are just a few of the companies involved — Palestinians in East Jerusalem have managed to stay in their homes, and in the Holy City, despite all.

Palestinian companies helping to promote jobs, investment and trade in East Jerusalem are now getting international press coverage. Credit: The Middle East magazine.

(See the full article, as it first appeared on InvestPalestine.com, 21 October, below.)

Don’t forget, that the 29th of November is the 34th anniversary of the UN’s declaration of 29 November as ‘The Day of International Solidarity with the Palestinian People,’ and the 65th anniversary of UN Resolution 181, declaring an independent state in Palestine.

Thanks for reading!

Pam

Palestine’s Agriculture and Agro-Industries: The Basis for a Resurgent Economy?

A series of recent studies from the UN, the World Bank, the UK, France and the European Union, as well as other international organisations, has highlighted the huge potential of agriculture and fishing in the West Bank and Gaza and the extremely important contribution a revived sector could provide to both Palestine’s GDP and the urgent need to create new jobs, especially for the young and in the rural areas.

Palestine’s Jordan Valley is one of the world’s richest, and most diverse, agricultural areas. Picture: JICA

At present, all the reports emphasize that the escalation of Israeli settlements, particularly in the fertile Jordan Valley; Israeli military control of ‘Area C;’ and the rapidly dwindling amount of water available to Palestinian farmers has led to a sharp decline in both cultivation and output. Fishing and fish processing in Gaza is also stagnating, they add, due to the harsh Israeli restrictions, both onshore and offshore. Continue reading

One Day, a True Independence Day

Thanks to Joharah Baker, from Miftah in the West Bank, for this comment (below).

It says it all.

________________

InvestPalestine will have more to come this month on:

The European Union Favours Palestinian Farmers,

The Huge Potential of Palestine’s ICT Sector.

Happy Independence Day, and…

Thanks for reading.

Pam

_______________________

by Joharah Baker, Miftah
14 November, 2011

Tomorrow is a special day for the Palestinians, at least in the world of symbolism and tenacious hope. Tomorrow is November 15, the day in 1988 when the late President Yasser Arafat declared a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital.

Yes, we Palestinians – perhaps out of sheer survival – have learned to cling to symbols. We thrive on moral victories, on eloquent speeches and on support from countries that can make no real difference in the unbalanced corridors of power.

A Young Palestinian Boy in Gaza, 2011

And we celebrate, each year, on November 15. We take the day off, our children stay home from school and we remind them that one day we will have a real independence day… but that, until then, we cannot lose faith.

There is truth at the heart of this. We cannot lose faith in spite of all that has gone wrong. But there must be a balance between symbolism and reality. Each has its advantages and disadvantages equally. If we find that balance, we will not allow ourselves to get lost in the symbolism that merely lifts our spirits.
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Editor’s Note: The Marathon Continues

Like many readers of this site, I was engrossed in the news these past two weeks surrounding the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood at the United Nations.  And, like many of you—regardless of your views on the wisdom of that approach—I am appalled by the prospect of a veto in the Security Council from President Obama, as well as the sharp divisions within the European Union member states.

Netanyahu’s arrogant announcement this week, of Israeli government approval for the construction of another 1,100 housing units for settlers in East Jerusalem, was the final straw.

The GOOD NEWS is that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have renewed their financial pledges to Palestine—worth a total of $300 million, although this will come through third parties like the World Bank.  Meanwhile, the prospect of yet more aid cut-offs from the US Congress remain.  So, too, on a more positive note, do new figures showing that Palestine’s economy is set to grow by more than 4 per cent this year.  While that represents a sharp fall from the 9.3 per cent rise in GDP recorded last year, it is still way above the miserable 1 to 2 per cent forecast for the US and many EU countries in 2011.

The European Parliament’s approval of new regulations allowing Palestinian agricultural produce to pass through customs to European consumers without duties or quotas is a sign of how much Brussels realises that its own populations support the Palestinian cause.

So, too, are a variety of international economic and research reports, released in September, giving tribute to the huge potential of the Palestinian economy, once Israel is persuaded to ease its continuing restrictions on trade, investment, movement and financial resources for the West Bank and Gaza.  The expanding role of the Palestinian diaspora, whether in the UK, Canada, Chile or the US, in supporting cultural and social projects in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, as well as financial investment and trade, is another positive sign that augers well for the medium- and longer-term future.  And that doesn’t count the new investment funds, aimed mainly at Palestinians and Palestine, being set up in the UAE and Jordan.

This website will continue to chart this progress, even though it is still “under construction” and seeking sponsorship.   Look out for more features in October, on investment and trade, ICT and telecoms, banking and finance, as well as construction, real estate and retail development.  Palestine’s people, wherever they are, are its greatest asset, as more and more investors are realising.

The marathon continues.

Meanwhile, here’s a bit of fun..in Taybeh….

Thanks for reading…

Pam

Tourism: The Enduring Appeal of Palestine

As millions of Britons prepared to depart to foreign climes for their annual summer holidays, one of the UK’s leading Sunday newspapers, The Observer, offered its readers a prestigious travel opportunity – a week’s tour of the “Holy Land.” Priced at between £1,099 ($1,800) and £1,399 ($2,300) – depending on the season, it included visits to Christian and Crusader sites in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Acre and Bethlehem as well as a boat trip on the Sea of Galilee and a swim in the Dead Sea.

Jerusalem: The Home of Three World Faiths

The Observer’s decision to feature an expensive trip to the West Bank, at a time of intense international political and diplomatic wrangling over the future of Palestine, demonstrates, yet again, the enduring attraction of the territory’s unique historical, cultural and archaeological heritage.

It doesn’t just include Christians.

As the centre of the world’s three great monotheistic religions, Palestine has something to offer everyone, including the tens of thousands of Israelis and non-Israeli Jews who visit each year. Khouloud Daibe, a Palestinian architect who currently serves as the Authority’s Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, is also setting up new museums, tours and promotions focussing on the monuments, shrines and natural wonders that appeal to visitors from the Arab and Islamic countries to the east. In the longer-term, Palestine hopes to become an gateway to the Arab world, as well as, at present, a final destination for visitors coming from North America, Europe and Asia via Tel Aviv or the few open crossings through Jordan and Egypt.

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