Hamas bans Israeli produce in Gaza

Import of fruit, vegetables into Strip now illegal; businesses recall 60 trucks.

gaza aid 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
gaza aid 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Hamas's Finance Ministry on Monday barred Israeli fruits and vegetables from entering the Gaza Strip on Monday, according to the spokesman for the Fruit Growers Association. The move is likely to cost Israeli fruit growers NIS 3-5 million a day, according to the association. The Hamas decision will also make it harder for Palestinians to keep fruits and vegetables in their diet, particularly those items not grown in Gaza, according to Shlomo Dror, spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. Upon hearing that Palestinian private contractors on the Gaza side of the Kerem Shalom crossing planned to adhere to the prohibition, Israeli businessmen did not send out the scheduled 60 trucks of produce, Dror told The Jerusalem Post. The fruit and vegetable ban is the latest in a set of anti-Israel moves by Hamas, including continued mortar fire on the crossing, to keep Kerem Shalom closed. On Saturday, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said, "We are against opening the Zionist-controlled crossing of Kerem Shalom." He added that its use was part of a conspiracy by Israel and the pro-American Fatah leadership in Ramallah against the Palestinians in Gaza. But according to the United Nations, the use of Kerem Shalom and Sufa as alternative crossings has been a lifeline that has allowed the UN to provide food staples to 1.1 million of the 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza. David Baker, a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office, lashed out at Hamas's decision. "Israel endeavors to allow the entry of as much produce into the Gaza Strip as possible to alleviate the Palestinian situation. However, Hamas wants to exacerbate the plight at the expense of their own people by fomenting resentment against Israel." Fruit Growers Association director-general Ilan Eshel said the produce import ban was a loss for his market as well. "Returning the fruit to Israeli markets will cause a price crisis and huge losses to Israeli fruit-growers," said Eshel. The extra fruit will glut the market to the point where no profits can be made, said a spokesman for the association. "This is just a political move on the part of Hamas," said Agriculture Ministry director-general Yossi Yishai. "[Hamas] will not close the border to necessities such as milk and bread, but this move is just seeking to inflict as much damage as possible on Israeli farmers." Dror added that the Hamas ban, along with the mortars it fires against the crossing, did not, however, prevent other goods' passage into Gaza through Kerem Shalom. Israel and the United Nations have continued to help facilitate humanitarian aid, such as basic food supplies and animal feed, into Gaza via both through Kerem Shalom and Sufa. The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has also assisted operations at Kerem Shalom, which was the main commercial thoroughfare until Hamas seized power in Gaza last month. According to Dror, an average of 150 trucks a day enter through Kerem Shalom and Sufa as alternatives to the Karni crossing, which has been closed - except to wheat shipments - since June 12th for technical and security reasons. Israel and the UN have begun to rely on Kerem Shalom and Sufa, which are easier to secure because they are slightly set back from the border. Even then, said Dror, there have been almost daily mortar attacks on Kerem Shalom, while according to Eshel, Sufa is not suitable for transporting most produce as the high levels of dust in that area could easily damage delicate fruits and vegetables. On average, approximately 500 tons of fruit, including bananas, apricots, plums and avocados, are moved into the Gaza Strip every summer. AP contributed to this report.