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Gaza to export Valentine's blooms

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Gaza's Valentine's flower export

Israel has granted permission for 25,000 flowers from the Gaza Strip to be sent to Europe for Valentine's Day.

The flowers will be Gaza's first exports for a year, as Israel has intensified its blockade of the strip since Hamas took control in June 2007.

The blockade allows in aid but exports are banned with few exceptions.

The move was made after a request by the Dutch government and Gaza farmers. Israel says this does not mean any overall change of policy.

Israeli military spokesman Maj Peter Lerner said the flowers would leave Gaza through an Israeli cargo crossing and were due to reach the European market by Valentine's Day on Saturday.

Income

The 25,000 carnations allowed out this time are a fraction of what farmers produce and many say they have no choice but to feed the crop to sheep.

Although many of the Gaza Strip's 1.5 million residents do not celebrate Valentine's Day, viewing it as a Western and Christian holiday, some shops in Gaza do sell red flowers and heart-shaped gifts.

GAZA BLOCKADE
A Palestinian man carries a bag of flour at a United Nations distribution center in Gaza (20/11/2008)
Only basic humanitarian items have been allowed in since June 2007
Virtually no exports permitted
Some 750,000 people rely on food aid
All factories making construction materials have shut down

Cut flowers, along with strawberries, were some of Gaza's main exported raw goods, providing a valuable source of income to thousands of families in the Gaza Strip.

Since June 2007, only a small number of lorries with strawberries and flowers have left the territory.

Before that time, around 750 trucks of furniture, food products, textiles and agricultural produce would leave Gaza each month. This was worth half a million US dollars a day.

Israel and Hamas are negotiating a longer-term truce through Egyptian mediators, following a 22-day war that ended last month.

Senior figures from Hamas, who are in Cairo for further talks, are expected to give their response to the truce proposals.

Hamas say there will not be agreement unless a deal involves lifting the blockade of Gaza and opening its border crossings.

Israel has said it will not reopen the crossings fully unless Hamas frees a captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.



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