A group of Gazans were allowed to farm their land near the border with Israel for the first time since 2006 yesterday after a deal agreed with Israeli authorities.
The deal, brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross, saw around a dozen farmers set foot on land they had not been able to access since Israel began imposing punitive measures on the Palestinian enclave more than a decade ago to isolate the strip’s leaders Hamas.
It was part of a wider ICRC project that aims to see around 280 farmers return to their land between 100 and 300 metres (yards) from Israel’s border fence.
Some parts of that territory still have to be cleared of munitions from conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians.
Farmer Anwar Dababi was scattering wheat on the ground near the border close to Rafah in southern Gaza, the first time he had accessed that part of his land since 2006.
“If I came here I was putting my life in danger, for example from being shot or a missile.
There was no possibility of entering the place with the children to enjoy it,” he said.
Guislain Defurne, head of the ICRC in Gaza, said the return was the result of lengthy negotiations.
“We helped farmers access to their land,” he said.
“Forty-five % of the agricultural land in Gaza is in the border areas so it makes a lot of sense.”
In 2006, following the capture of a soldier by Hamas fighters, Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza which was tightened a year later after the group ousted Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah.
Israel and Hamas have since fought three wars and the blockade remains in place.
It includes a buffer zone along the border in which farmers and others are not allowed to operate.
Clashes between Gazans and Israeli forces regularly occur in some areas along the border fence.
Rights groups say the blockade amounts to collective punishment of the 2mn residents.
Farmer Anwar Adbari, 43, said that while he was happy to be back, he had fears the measures could only be temporary.
“We are sowing (the fields) with the help of the ICRC, but next time we don’t know if we will be able to harvest them.”
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