Frequent closures of the Karni checkpoint and reduced opening hours will cost fruit growers NIS 30 million in lost sales to the Gaza Strip by the end of 2006, Israel Fruit Growers Association director Yossi Halperin said Sunday.
Gaza was the destination of approximately 15 percent of fruit produced in Israel, with 70,000 tons of mangos, bananas, plums, peaches and other fruits sold in Gaza annually, he said. Growers had planted orchards especially to serve the Gazan market, and were not able to sell the accumulated surplus to the Israeli market, he added.
"In practice, the growers are managing to get only one-third of the required amount at this time of the year into the Gaza Strip," Halperin said. "Some trucks are forced to return with the fruit still loaded on them, already unfit for the market."
Halperin called on Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon to intervene in the matter.
"The growers understand the security constraints causing problems in the operation of the checkpoint," he said. "Yet, with the right planning, supply [of goods] could be increased significantly."
Halperin suggested that one body be appointed to set procedures to ease the transfer of agriculture products and other goods through Karni.
"We have no doubt that proper organization would increase the checkpoint's output by at least 30% and relieve at least some of the pressure," he said, adding that this would also benefit the Gazans for humanitarian reasons.
Simhon said he would investigate ways to establish a separate checkpoint for the trade of agricultural goods between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Approximately 25% of Israeli fresh produce is sold in the Palestinian Authority, making the ability to export goods to the PA an important factor in decisions related to agricultural development, he said.
Karni has been closed for 100 workdays this year, but would now be open during daylight hours, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yosef Mishlav said.