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Israel eases Gaza blockade, permits tomato exports

First load of fresh produce for Europe makes crossing

Reuters , Thursday 3 Mar 2011
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Israel further eased its blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Wednesday by permitting a first truckload of cherry tomatoes destined for Europe to pass through their common frontier, officials said.

Raed Fattouh, a liaison coordinator with Israel, said the truck had passed through a main crossing and its produce was to be shipped to Europe.

Israel's Defence Ministry had said on Sunday the shipment was to go through with the produce scheduled to be sent to Europe, in coordination with the Dutch government.

Israel began easing trade restrictions on Gaza in November, answering Western demands against an embargo it imposed when Hamas Islamists seized power in 2007.

Human rights groups say the embargo has worsened economic conditions for many of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza, many of whom are refugees living in poverty.

Hamas opposes Israel's existence as a Jewish state and militants in the coastal territory frequently fire rockets and mortars at Israeli towns, to which Israel has responded with deadly air strikes.

Since then 184 truckloads of strawberries, carnations and peppers have been exported via Israel to Europe, the Israeli statement said.

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