Israel imported its first fruit and vegetables from the Gaza Strip in almost eight years on Thursday, in a partial easing of an economic blockade maintained since the Islamist group Hamas seized control of the Palestinian territory.
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Twenty-seven metric tons of tomatoes and five tons of eggplants were trucked across the border under an Israeli plan to bring in around 1,200 tons of produce a month. The Palestinians welcomed the move, though the scale fell short of the some 3,300 tons they said they had previously exported to Israel each month.
Israel has faced international calls to ease the blockade since a war with Hamas last year, the second in six years, that caused heavy devastation in the Gaza Strip and left more than 100,000 of its population of 1.8 million homeless.
Israel had already begun to allow vegetables from Gaza as well as Palestinian merchants to transit across Israel to the West Bank, and to allow Gaza’s farmers to bring tractors in via Israel.
“We hope this will be a new start that will benefit both farmer and economy,” said Tahseen Al-Saqqa, marketing and crossing director in the Gaza ministry of agriculture.
Israel says its blockade is intended to restrict goods that could be used in weapons production and underground tunnels. But the embargo has added to hardship in the dilapidated, arid territory, where more than half the population receive United Nations food aid.
Israel said its purchases of fruit and vegetables from the Gaza Strip were meant to help the Palestinian economy and make up for a shortfall in Israeli produce caused by a Jewish biblical fallow year, known as shmita.
“We hope it becomes permanent so we can make up for the losses caused by the Israeli blockade and wars,” said Robeen Qassem, a Gaza farmer.
“Farmers are struggling to live and the resumption of exports could revive their business. It is a good step.