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Britons invest in Rawabi, Palestinian city of dreams

    Bashar Masri is like few Palestinians in the raucous, tough world of the Middle East.

    Urbane and softly spoken, he is the entrepreneur behind one of the Arab community's most ambitious projects - the new city of Rawabi, 15 km from Ramallah.

    The sophisticated and cosmopolitan Mr Masri is taking a huge gamble with Rawabi, a city intended to house between 25,000 and 30,000 people, with the option of expanding it to hold at least 100,000.

    As he explained to a group of international journalists in Rawabi last week, the city is set to be home to secular, educated Palestinians with both husbands and wives working.

    There is a mosque in Rawabi, but there is also a church for the dwindling population of Christian Arabs. But Mr Masri's real ambition is to build a Palestinian city that will attract upwardly mobile inhabitants, the mirror of upmarket Tel Aviv satellite towns like Ramat Aviv or Givatayim.

    Ironically, the project, whose initial funding came from Mr Masri and the Qatari government, is attracting high-profile Jewish investors. These include America's Michael Steinhardt, George Soros, and the British businessman Jeremy Coller.

    Lord Levy, Britain's former Middle East envoy under Tony Blair, has visited Rawabi and has hosted investors' breakfasts in London and Israel.

    Mr Masri had hoped for the first homes to be occupied by the end of June but a block by Israel on the issuing of water permits has delayed the move. He said: "To say I am frustrated with this delay is an understatement. We are being held captive to a political process over which we have no control."

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