Gaza strawberries and flowers head to Europe

Israel wants to expand exports from Strip, but officials say this depends on renovations at crossing point.

Gaza Strawberries 311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Gaza Strawberries 311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Israel on Sunday facilitated the transfer of a large shipment of strawberries and flowers out of the Hamas-controlled territory, as a first step toward increasing exports to Europe.
Started four years ago as a small operation funded by the Dutch government, the expanded shipments were approved by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and overseen by the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.
COGAT said that by the end of the week, around two-and-a- half tons of strawberries and 2,000 flowers would be en route to European markets via the Kerem Shalom crossing.
Defense sources said the export of the produce was the first step toward realizing COGAT’s goal of beginning larger exports from Gaza to Europe toward the end of the first quarter of 2011.
As reported by The Jerusalem Post in September, Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot, who serves as the coordinator, has drawn up a plan under which Palestinian Authority officials will deploy at the Kerem Shalom crossing and oversee the import and export of goods.
The sources said the expansion of exports would depend on renovations being done at the crossing to enable it to facilitate the processing of 400 trucks a day in both directions.
Israel will also need to deploy scanning machines that can X-ray cargo containers and ensure that terrorismrelated goods are not being transferred out of Gaza. The sources said that additional exports would only be allowed if the PA maintained an official presence at the crossing to oversee the process and if the move did not strengthen Hamas and weaken the PA.
Since the beginning of the year, COGAT has approved 78 projects that have the funding and supervision of the international community and the approval of the PA. An emphasis has been put on education, health and infrastructure projects.
Still, Israel needs to do more to ease its blockade of Gaza and allow exports from the territory, Mideast Quartet envoy Tony Blair said in an interview on Sunday, after meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
“There has been significant change in Gaza, but not nearly as much as we need,” Blair said.
“I hope that in a short space of time, we will get some progress there, because a functioning private sector in Gaza is important,” he said. “It is important for the economy of Gaza, but it is also important for the people there.”
Blair said Gazans, most of whom receive some aid, don’t want handouts.
“They want to run their own affairs properly,” he said.
AP contributed to this report.