Hamas blocks fruit imports from Israel
The Hamas government has barred much of Gaza's fruit imports from Israel, citing a need to cultivate local Palestinian agriculture.
The ban is opposed to by Gazan produce traders who fear a squeeze on supplies and price hikes in the poor coastal enclave, which has a largely black market economy and lacks viable trade with Egypt, its other neighbor.
Local growers however said the move would help them.
With the exception of bananas and apples, Gaza is no longer admitting fruit from Israel, the Agriculture Ministry said on Monday.
The ban affects at least seven kinds of fruit and, in terms of sales, constitutes around a 50 percent cut in imports whose 2011 value the ministry put at $26 million.
Tahseen al-Saqqa, the ministry's director of marketing, said the move was in part a response to what he described as Israel's refusal to allow the export, through its border with Gaza, of staple Palestinian fruit like grapes and guavas.
"The Palestinian farmer is suffering because all doors to export have been closed," Saqqa said.
The charge was denied by Israel, which places severe restrictions on traffic in and out of Gaza.
Israel has imposed a crippling land, air and sea blockade on Gaza since Hamas took over governance in 2007. The blockade is partially alleviated by an intricate system of tunnels where goods are imported from Sinai, but the tunnels routinely come under Israeli bombardment.
Gaza fruit importer Jaber Al-Shanty said the Hamas government ban was "irresponsible and unrealistic" as it overlooked the losses to hundreds of Palestinians whose livelihood depends on marketing the fruit.
"The local product is not nearly enough" to offset the shortfall, he said. "What do we have in large quantities, other than guava?"
Shanty said he and other importers had made advance payments to Israeli suppliers that would now be difficult to reclaim.
Since the import ban went into effect on Friday, the price of peaches has doubled to eight Israeli shekels ($2) per kilo, while dates were selling at 11 shekels ($2.81) per kilo, up from 7 shekels.
Saqqa said the Hamas government would crack down on anyone deemed to be gouging fruit prices, and urged Palestinians to view the hardship through the prism of their struggle against Israel.
"We are people under blockade and we should have the culture of resistance," he said. "Why should someone have all kinds of fruits on his table?"
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