PALO ALTO, California: Facebook, the social networking website, is aiming to continue its international expansion by launching an Arabic version of its service in the Middle East.

According to Facebook engineer Ghassan Haddad, the launch of the localised version of its main portal could be "potentially huge".

Some 900,000 people in Egypt are currently members of Facebook, alongside 700,000 web users in Israel, 300,000 people in Lebanon and a further 250,000 consumers in Saudi Arabia.

The new Arabic version of its site will go up against other popular Middle Eastern social networking services, which include ArabFriendz, Jeeran, Kalam Arab and Maktoob.

Facebook is now accessible in a total of 40 different languages around the world, and the company is developing its capacity for 60 more.

By contrast, its fellow online operator AOL has closed its offices in China for the second time, having re-entered the market in April 2008 after the closure of, its $100 million (€78m; £73m) joint initiative with Lenovo, in 2004.

Among the reasons cited by observers for its latest withdrawal are AOL's broader rationalisation of its operations, which will see several hundred job cuts around the world, and the comparatively low return it has enjoyed from the venture.

Data sourced from Street Journal; additional content by WARC staff