Israel blocks Palestinian export in escalating trade crisis

A Palestinian farmers harvest cauliflower at a field in the Jordan Valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as they prepare to sell the produce in the Palestinian market following Defense Minister Naftali Bennett's announcement a halt to all agricultural produce imported from the West Bank into Israel. (File/AFP)
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Updated 09 February 2020

Israel blocks Palestinian export in escalating trade crisis

  • Palestinian Authority says Israeli forces at checkpoints blocked vegetable shipments
  • Palestinians decided to stop importing beef from Israel in Sept.

RAMALLAH: Israel on Sunday imposed a ban on Palestinian agricultural exports, in a move the Palestinians blasted as a “dangerous” escalation in a five-month trade war.
“Starting from today... export abroad of Palestinian agricultural product through the Allenby crossing will not be allowed,” COGAT, the Israel defense ministry unit that oversees civilian activities in the Palestinian territories, said in a statement.
The Israeli-controlled Allenby border crossing between Jordan and the occupied West Bank is the only route through which Palestinian goods can reach foreign markets.
Moein Ashtiyeh, a Palestinian farmer in the fertile Jordan Valley region, said he had 400 tons of dates set for export to Britain, Germany and Turkey, which he is currently unable to sell.
“If I can’t export these dates, the Israeli action will cost me 10 million shekels ($2.9 million),” he told AFP.
COGAT said the measure was in response to a Palestinian decision in October to stop importing calves from Israel.
That boycott “dramatically hurt Israeli cattle breeders,” COGAT said.
The Palestinians said at the time that they wanted to decrease their dependence on the Israeli market.
The trade dispute has escalated since US President Donald Trump released his controversial Middle East plan last month, which has been rejected by the Palestinians as overwhelmingly pro-Israeli.
Last week, Israel’s defense ministry halted all imports of agricultural products from the West Bank to Israel, cutting the Palestinians off from a market that accounts for roughly two-thirds of their agricultural exports.
The Palestinian Authority responded by banning the import of Israeli produce, soft drinks and mineral water.
Palestinian agriculture minister Reyad Attari told AFP that Israel’s latest block on goods crossing the Allenby Bridge “violated all the agreements” between the two sides.
“It’s a very dangerous action,” he said.
COGAT stressed that its ban would be reversed “the moment the Palestinian Authority took back its decision to harm cattle trade with Israel and the free market.”
Palestinian economic analyst Nasser Abdel Karim told AFP that despite the rising tensions neither side is seeking a full-blown trade war.
Unrest in the West Bank has surged since Trump unveiled his controversial peace proposal and the Israelis want to avoid any further “outbursts of violence in the Palestinian territories and ensure calm,” Abdel Karim said.
Among the Palestinian leadership, “there is no will for economic confrontation,” he added.
But even if both sides are keen to avoid major economic hostilities, Palestinian vegetable producer Nasser Abdel Razek said he remained worried.
“This is potato and onion season,” he told AFP. “If I can’t export I will lose a lot of money.”


Lavrov rejects Idlib cease-fire as ‘capitulating before terrorists’

Syrians search for victims following an airstrike by pro-regime forces in Binnish, Idlib, near the border with Turkey. (AFP)
Updated 12 min 11 sec ago

Lavrov rejects Idlib cease-fire as ‘capitulating before terrorists’

  • Turkish-backed opposition fighters seize town as Assad troops press ahead with campaign

GENEVA: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday rejected calls for a halt to a Russia-backed Syrian offensive in Idlib in northwest Syria.

“This is capitulating before terrorists and even a reward for their activities in violation of international treaties and numerous UN Security Council resolutions,” Lavrov told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Lavrov accused some governments of “a desire to justify outrageous acts committed by radical and terrorist groupings.
“Otherwise, it would be difficult to explain admonishments about the possibility of concluding peace agreements with bandits,” he said, referring to the situation in Idlib.
Syrian rebels backed by the Turkish military have seized the town of Nairab in northwest Syria’s Idlib province, the first area to be taken back from advancing Syrian regime forces.
“With the help of our Turkish friends, we have regained control of the strategic town of Nairab, the gateway of Saraqeb, after expelling the terrorist Russian militias,” Yusef Hamoud, spokesman for the Turkish-backed National Army, said.
A Turkish security official said the Turkish military had supported the rebel offensive with shelling and that bomb disposal teams and the rebels were now clearing the town, located about 20 km southeast of rebel-held Idlib city.
Their next goal was to capture the strategic town of Saraqeb, where Syria’s main north-south highway linking Damascus and Aleppo meets the road west to the Mediterranean. “This will happen soon. The regime suffered heavy losses in the clashes last night. Also, a serious amount of weapons and ammunition was seized,” the Turkish official said.
In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on the warring sides to allow safe passage for civilians to escape attacks. It reminded them that hospitals, markets and schools are protected by law.

FASTFACT

A Turkish security official said the Turkish military had supported the rebel offensive with shelling and that bomb disposal teams and the rebels were now clearing the town, located about 20 km southeast of rebel-held Idlib city.

“We are urging parties to allow civilians to move to safety, either in areas they control or across the front lines,” ICRC spokeswoman Ruth Hetherington told a news briefing.
An airstrike struck a school, killing three people, Syrian opposition activists said, as regime forces moved forward in their offensive toward a town considered a symbol of the uprising against President Bashar Assad.
The violence came as Turkey’s president announced that a Russian delegation would arrive the following day to resume talks aimed at easing tensions in Idlib.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said no consensus was reached for a four-way meeting next month between the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Turkey meant to address the crisis. He added, however, that Russia’s Vladimir Putin may still come to Turkey next week for a bilateral meeting. Moscow has so far not confirmed a March 5 visit by the Russian president to Turkey.
“Russia supports Syria at the highest level,” Erdogan told reporters before departing for a visit to Azerbaijan. “Even if they deny it, we have evidence. We are forced to be in this fight.”