Gaza's greenhouses become hot property in Egypt
By Will Rasmussen
RAFAH, Egypt (Reuters) - As Palestinians trudged across the Rafah border to stock up, Yahya Salama had another mission -- to sell Israeli-style greenhouses in Egypt.
Salama, 30, carted metal bars and poles, and translucent plastic sheeting to sell to Egyptians after Hamas militants blasted open the border last week to ease the Israeli-led blockade of Gaza.
Palestinians with years of experience working in Israeli greenhouses say this equipment was unavailable in Egypt.
"The Egyptian greenhouses aren't as strong and can collapse in the wind ... The material they use to keep the viruses off the plants also isn't as good," Salama told Reuters.
Gazans are busy dismantling greenhouses to sell in Egypt because it had been nearly impossible to export produce recently, he said.
The influx of tens of thousands of Palestinians has boosted the economies of impoverished towns in Egypt's Sinai peninsula in the past week. Egyptian farmers snapped up the greenhouses, eager for sturdier structures and Gazan expertise.
"Of course they are benefiting from us," said Gazan Khaldoun Rabah, 37, pulling a load of greenhouse parts in a tractor down a muddy road on the Egyptian side of the divided border town of Rafah.
He said he had 10 years of experience working with greenhouses in Israel or in Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, from which Israel pulled its troops and settlers in 2005 after 38 years of occupation.
SELLS FOR 11,000 SHEKELS
Gazans said a complete greenhouse could sell for 11,000 shekels ($3,000) in Egypt, the most populous Arab country. Salama said he could buy them for 8,000 to 10,000 shekels inside the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
In Egyptian Rafah, 22-year-old Egyptian Mahmoud Dohair was scouring the border town for greenhouses to bring back to his uncle's 125-acre farm in the Suez Canal town of Ismailia.
"We don't have greenhouses like this here ... These are cheaper and stronger than ours." He said he had bought 11 greenhouses in the past week to grow cucumbers and tomatoes.
Other Palestinians continued to sell scrap metal, brought in from Gaza by trucks, even as border traffic thinned after Egypt choked off the supply of consumer goods to the border area to try to discourage Gazans from crossing.
Egyptian forces were stopping Gaza vehicles from entering Egypt on Thursday.
Salama said he had made eight trips into Egypt since the border with Gaza opened on January 23 to bring in greenhouses which he said Israel had not allowed through the Rafah crossing when it was open. The crossing has been largely sealed since Hamas seized control of Gaza in June.
One of his associates who has an Egyptian visa that allows him to leave the border area would visit Ismailia and the northern port city of Alexandria to help with greenhouse assembly, he said.
"We are hoping they will open the official crossing at Rafah and allow our greenhouses through," Salama said.
($1 = 3.63 shekels)
(Writing by Will Rasmussen; editing by Robert Woodward)