Gaza farmers close to sign $15 million deal with U.S. aid agency for their greenhouses

A U.S. government agency have started talks with Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip to buy 1,000 acres of their greenhouses for US$15 million.

The agency, USAID, confirmed such talks are under way, but said many issues have not yet been resolved. USAID has given the Palestinians some US$1.5 billion in aid over the past decade.

Israel is planning to withdraw in mid-August from 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank. Many of the 8,500 Gaza settlers grow spices, flowers, cucumbers, peppers and other produce in greenhouses, mostly for export.

Eitan Hadari, the Gaza settler leading the negotiations, said he and the other farmers wanted to find a buyer because they could not move the greenhouses to new plots of land in Israel quickly enough and felt they were not getting enough compensation from their government.

Yossi Tsarfati, coordinator of Gaza farmers, said USAID won an international tender to negotiate a deal with the settlers.

Under the deal being discussed, USAID would pay US$15 million („џ12.4 million) for 1,000 acres of greenhouses, Hadari said. This would cover most of the settlement farms, he said.

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

Silvana Foa, a spokeswoman for USAID, confirmed that talks are being held, but that many issues have not yet been settled.

Hadari said USAID plans to give the greenhouses to local Palestinian farmers, possibly a cooperative, to be used for export purposes.

Foa did not immediately confirm these details.

Palestinian Economics Minister Mazen Sonnoqrot said the Palestinian government would not directly or indirectly compensate the Jewish settlers for their greenhouses.

However, Sonnoqrot said the Palestinian government 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.

Nigel Roberts, director of the World Bank for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said the World Bank would not be involved in transactions involving Gaza greenhouses.

However, he said the World Bank would try to help Palestinian farmers make good use of the settlement areas left behind, and help them export their goods, the AP reports.

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