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(photo credit: AP [file])
Close to 20,000 jobs have been created in the Gaza Strip over the last four months thanks to coordination between the IDF and Palestinian agricultural unions, according to Col. Nir Press, commander of the IDF Coordination and Liaison Administration.
A drop in terror threats to the Karni Crossing made the changes possible, said Press. Nevertheless, unemployment in the Strip remains close to 35 percent, he said.
Out of the 19,100 Gazans who found jobs in the past four months, 10,500 were in agriculture, he said. The increase was spurred by an IDF decision to allow Palestinians to work fields in the northern Strip, particularly in the Beit Lahiya area, that had been off limits since they are used to fire Kassam rockets.
While Israel does not talk with officials from the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government, Press said, he has held a series of meetings with farmers and union leaders, and coordinated the transfer of raw materials into Gaza and the export of agricultural produce to Israel and on to Europe.
Some 1,300 tons of strawberries and 18 million flowers passed through the Karni Crossing over the last four months on the way to Europe, almost twice the amount from last year. Since December, more than 14,000 tons of vegetables have been sent from Gaza for sale in Israel.
The increase, Press told The Jerusalem Post on Monday, was due to both improved coordination and a Palestinian effort to deter terrorists from planning attacks against Karni. Last year, Karni was closed for nearly 100 days due to intelligence warnings regarding planned attacks. Last summer, a vast tunnel - intended to be filled with explosives - was discovered being dug under the crossing.
"There is a combination of a number of elements," Press said from his office at the Erez Crossing just outside the Strip. "Most important is that there is a better understanding that terror has a negative impact on economic growth in Gaza."
The 19,100 new jobs, Press said, should not be taken lightly. "Each worker feeds about eight other people," he said. "And by finding them jobs, we are keeping them out of mosques where they would hear incitement against Israel."
Gazans plan to enlarge the size of the fields they cultivate in the area from 1,800 dunams now to 2,500 dunams next year.
Press said his office had received reports of farmers clashing with terrorists trying to fire Kassam rockets from their fields.
Asked about IDF plans to carry out a large-scale operation in an effort to stop the Kassam rocket fire and to destroy Hamas's terrorist infrastructure, Press said: "It is all about the balance between military and civilian issues pertaining to the people of Gaza. This is the job of the [Coordination and Liaison] Administration - to do what we can to help the Palestinian people while at the same time taking into consideration the security of the State of Israel."