The Gaza Strip now produces enough potatoes, onions and watermelon to satisfy local demand, the Hamas rulers of the Palestinian territory reeling from an Israeli blockade said today. "Despite the blockade, we have taken measures to reach self sufficiency" in the production of fruit and vegetables, Mohammed al Agha, the Hamas agriculture minister, said. "These measures have yielded their first results with the production of watermelon and onions," he said.
Some 21,670 tonnes of onions and 37,000 tonnes of potatoes were produced in April and May in the impoverished territory, he said, adding this was enough to satisfy local demand. Some 20,900 tonnes of watermelons were also harvested in May. Hamas wants to be able to grow locally 80 per cent of produce consumed in the territory in five years, so that the enclave no longer has to import the products from Israel, he said.
Mr al Agha said residents have begun using Israel's former settlements, which were evacuated in 2005 and where Israeli settlers grew fruits and vegetables in greenhouses, for agricultural production. Following the withdrawal of Israeli settlers and soldiers, the grounds of the settlements were converted to militant training camps or left to decay. Israel slapped a punishing blockade on Gaza, allowing only essential humanitarian goods to pass through, in June 2007 after Hamas, a group pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state, seized power there.
Egypt, which controls Gaza's only crossing that bypasses Israel, has for the most part adhered to the restrictions over the territory where the vast majority of 1.5 million residents rely on foreign aid. * AFP