(photo credit: IDF [file])
Israel will permit farmers in the Gaza Strip to export their entire crop of strawberries and flowers to Europe, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon said Wednesday, in its first easing of trade restrictions imposed on the impoverished territory since Hamas seized control in June.
The Israeli decision is meant as a goodwill message to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ahead of the US-hosted Middle East conference set to take place next week, Simhon said. A formal renewal of peace talks is expected at the meeting in Annapolis, Maryland.
Israel will allow the opening of the Sufa crossing for the passage of agricultural produce, beginning with strawberries and flowers and then expanding to include other produce, Simhon told Israel Radio.
"The defense minister approved my request last week to allow the renewal of exports from the Gaza Strip," Simhon said.
For the first time in weeks, the crossing was opened Tuesday for two hours to allow the passage into the Gaza Strip of 200 calves, the radio said.
Hamas said Wednesday that Israel was only responding to intense European pressure to ease restrictions on the crossings.
"This shows that there's no logical pretext to keep the crossings closed," said Alaa Araj, an economic adviser to the Hamas rulers of Gaza.
The border closures have severely constricted an already troubled local economy.
Maher Tabah, a trade official with the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce, said the strawberry and flower crop is expected to bring in about $14 million.
The 40,000 farmers in Gaza have been hampered by Israel's refusal to allow in raw materials like plastic sheeting for greenhouses, pesticides and seedlings, Tabah said.
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