Palestinian farmers are packing up their cartons loaded with strawberries, hoping to export their red fruits to Europe, an electronic news site reported on Wednesday.
"This is a moment that fills me with hope," said Ibrahim al-Musallami, 58, one of the farmers. "I hope I will be able to resume exporting my strawberries outside Gaza."
Israel allows only a limited amount of strawberry exports to Europe through the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Gaza, The Electronic Intifada said.
After packing up their cartons, the farmers line up in front of the local agricultural organization office in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya for inspection before being transferred to the Kerem Shalom border, for their strawberries to be exported by the Israeli firm AGREXCO.
"This pack of two-and-a-half kilos is exported for about $15," he explained. "I am not hopeful that the ten tons I expect to ship will be delivered to the outside world without obstacles. Politics influences every aspect of our lives in Gaza, including strawberries."
Another farmer, Abdelrazzaq al-Musallami, 27, who had previously lost tons of strawberries that had been left to rot awaiting export at Gaza's sealed borders, is now burdened with debts due to Israel’s tightening the Gaza blockade in 2007. Al-Musallami's debt has reached up to $13,000 to local merchants.
"We hope that this season Palestinian farmers will have the possibility to export their strawberry crops, and this will boost Gaza's economy," said Asad Yassin, the chief of product quality at the agriculture ministry, as he inspected some cartons of goods.
According to Yassin, only fifty tons were exported in 2009, but before the blockade almost two thousand tons of strawberries annually were exported Europe and Canada.
"In addition to their very good flavor, Gaza strawberries are considered to be the best-quality product in the Middle East region," Yassin said.
The financial losses for Palestiniaqns exceed $20 million due to their inability to export agricultural goods.
In July 2009, the UK charity Oxfam reported that up to 50 percent of Gaza strawberry farmers had given up planting because the Israeli blockade prevented exports.
Most of Gaza's impoverished population is dependent on U.N. food aid, despite Israel's easing the blockade after the Gaza Freedom Flotilla incident last May where nine Turkish activites were killed by Israeli fire.
Israel allowed more types of food, consumer goods and new cars into the territory, however U.N. officials say that shortages of critical goods -- especially reconstruction supplies remain.