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Gaza farmers said set to sell greenhouses
by Josef Federman

The Associated Press    Translate This Article
29 July 2005

JERUSALEM (AP) - A U.S. government agency is in talks with Israeli settlers in Gaza to buy their greenhouses and leave them in place for Palestinian use after Israel's upcoming withdrawal from the area, a leader of the farmers said Friday.

The fate of the hundreds of greenhouses owned by Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip is one of many unresolved issues surrounding the planned mid-August withdrawal. The lack of coordination between Israel and the Palestinians has raised concerns in the U.S., which believes a successful withdrawal is crucial for future peace efforts.

Eitan Hadari, the Gaza settler leading the negotiations, said the farmers are in talks with the U.S. Agency for International Development to sell about 1,000 acres of greenhouses for $15 million.

``We are close to a deal, but it hasn't been signed yet,'' he said. He acknowledged that no contract has been drawn up and that some issues remain unresolved.

He said the deal would cover about 250 of Gaza's roughly 300 Jewish farms. Hadari said the farmers want to sell their properties because they could not move the greenhouses to new plots of land in Israel quickly enough and believe they are not getting enough compensation from their own government.

Silvana Foa, a spokeswoman for USAID, confirmed that talks are being held, but would not elaborate on which issues still need to be resolved.

The Gaza greenhouses grow spices, flowers, cucumbers, peppers and other produce, mostly for export. Hadari said the plan would transfer the greenhouses to local Palestinian farmers, possibly a cooperative, to be used for export purposes.

Palestinian Economics Minister Mazen Sonnoqrot said the Palestinian government would not directly or indirectly compensate the Jewish settlers for their greenhouses. But he said the Palestinian government has informed the Americans that it would accept the greenhouses from a third party.

The greenhouses, he said, would help the Palestinians economically and give them access to new high-tech greenhouse technology. ``If these greenhouses remain intact we will benefit from them,'' Sonnoqrot said.

In mid-August, Israel is to evacuate all 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four small enclaves in the West Bank, forcing nearly 9,000 Jewish settlers from their homes.

In a television interview Friday, Maj. Gen Dan Harel, the Israeli military commander for the Gaza Strip, pledged to complete the mission ``with determination.''

``If you would ask me whether I would choose to do this, the answer is no, no. But at the end of the day, no one can choose or sway his fate, not his and not the country's,'' Harel told Channel 10 television.

Israel's Channel Two television reported Friday that Dov Weisglass, a top adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, would travel to Washington this weekend for talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is pressing the two sides to work together.

Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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