Egypt has barred the export of palm fronds - used ceremonially in the upcoming Sukkot holiday - to Israel and to Jewish communities abroad, the Agriculture Ministry has learned.

The move by the Egyptian government comes just weeks before the fall holiday when the lulavs are in demand. In the past, Israel has imported about 700,000 palm fronds a year prior to Sukkot, representing about 40 percent of the total demand for them every year here.

In addition, about 700,000 of the 2 million lulavs purchased in Jewish communities in the Diaspora, primarily in North America and Europe, normally come from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

The Egyptian Agriculture Ministry said the ban would be in effect until the end of 2011.

Israel's Agriculture Ministry will issue special licenses to allow the import of lulavs from Spain, Jordan and the Gaza Strip, so that no major shortage is experienced in the run-up to the holiday. The ministry will require that palm fronds coming into the country be inspected to prevent the spread of plant disease.

Israel's Agriculture Minister Orit Noked said her ministry would also work to supply the Israeli public with lulavs at a fair price by encouraging domestic date farmers to greatly boost their supply.

Date growers here said they have no intention of hiking prices beyond the labor costs they incur. Last year, regular lulavs sold for about NIS 100 each.

Israeli growers are expected to supply about 650,000 lulavs to the Israeli public in addition to another 200,000 special lulavs for the ultra-Orthodox community here.