Gaza Farmers Burn 3 Tons of Herbs as Export Blocked by Border Crossing Closure

Farmers said Israel reinstates closure on commercial crossing just as they were preparing to harvest two tons of mint and a ton of basil, now past their prime for the European market.

Palestinian farmers in the Gaza Strip began destroying three tons of herbs on Saturday, saying a prolonged closure of the crossing into Israel meant the plants were no longer fit for export to Europe.

Last October, Israel lifted a five-year ban on the lucrative export of Gazan herbs and spices, imposed after Hamas seized control of the coastal enclave, and farmers had hoped to cash in with their latest crop of mint and basil.

But Israel shut its sole commercial crossing into Gaza last Monday in response to a rocket salvo fired out of Gaza, allowing only a brief reopening on Friday to enable the import of certain goods.

Farmers said the closure came just as they were preparing to harvest two tons of mint and a ton of basil, adding that the herbs were now past their prime for the European market.

"It was too late and we regret that we have had to throw away the farmers'  harvest," Jamal Abu Naja, director of Gaza's communal agriculture association, told Reuters. "Repeated closures are threatening this hopeful project."

The Palestinian economy is bound closely to Israel's through infrastructure and has few foreign trading partners. Israel's security cordon around Gaza and its security restrictions in the occupied West Bank limit Palestinians' ability to compete in export markets and contribute to an unemployment rate of almost 25 percent, the World Bank said last month.

Israel and Hamas, which rejects the Jewish state's right to exist, fought an eight-day war last November that ended with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire.

After three months of quiet, militants fired a rocket into Israel at the end of February, with occasional salvos following in subsequent weeks. Israel has responded each time by closing the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing.