GAZA, Dec. 10 (Xinhua) -- Israel on Thursday eased restrictions on flowers exports from the Gaza Strip to Europe, amid Palestinian accusations of its setting obstacles in talks over a prisoner swap deal between Israel and Islamic Hamas movement.
Israel allowed Palestinian farmers in the Gaza Strip, which has been under a tight Israeli blockade for more than three years, to export flowers to Europe through border crossings controlled by Israel, Palestinian officials said.
"The Israeli authorities allowed us today to export 28,400 roses to Europe," said Saleh Khalil, director of Gaza Flower and Strawberry Farmers' Association, adding that it is the first time in a year that Israel allows Gaza farmers to export.
"We have also got a permission to export another shipment next Thursday," Khalil told Xinhua. A truckload of flowers passed through Kerem Shalom crossing between southeast Gaza and Israel, he said.
Israel imposes a tight siege on the Hamas-controlled Gaza since2006, after the Islamic movement captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a cross-border attack. Israel tightened the blockade after Hamas seized control of the enclave by force in June 2007.
Israel allowed Gaza farmers to export flowers to European markets on the eve of the Valentine's day last year. The limited exporting of flowers -- and sometimes Strawberry -- always comes as a result of pressure on Israel by European diplomats.
The Netherlands sponsors a project involving about 54 farmers to plant flowers in Gaza for the European markets. If Israel keeps flower exports flowing, the farmers expect to ship 40 million roses for this season that ends in May 2010.
Meanwhile, Ra'ed Fatouh, goods entrance coordinator between Gaza and Israel, said, "allowing a truck of flowers out of the Gaza Strip for the first time since last winter is giving hope to Palestinian farmers to export their products from Gaza to all overthe world."
Fatouh said Israel opened Kerem Shalom crossing for 115 truckloads of humanitarian aids into Gaza, which included commercial and agricultural products.
However, Israel keeps two other crossings located between eastern Gaza and Israel -- Karni and Nahal Uz -- closed, Fatouh said. The two crossings are used for shipping fuels and cooking gas into the Gaza Strip.
Israel has linked any major easing of its blockade on the territory on captive Israeli soldier Shalit's return home.
The partial easing of the blockade on Gaza came as the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) accused Israel of obstructing the indirect negotiations on the prisoner swap.
Eissa Qaraqe', Palestinian minister of prisoners affairs, said earlier in the day that Israel puts obstacles in the negotiations on exchanging Shalit for Arab and Palestinian prisoners.
Israel refused to free a number of prisoners who are on a list presented by Islamic Hamas movement which has been holding Gilad Shalit hostage in Gaza since June 2006, he said.
"Israel also wants to deport several prisoners and exclude" Arab-Israeli prisoners who live in Jerusalem or other Israeli towns from the negotiations, Qaraqe' told Voice of Palestine radio.
"These obstacles have appeared, but I think the negotiations are still going on but not that fast," Qaraqe' said.
Hamas and Israel have been holding indirect talks through Germany and Egypt to finalize the prisoner swap deal that exchange around 1,000 prisoners for the Israeli corporal who was captured by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in June 2006.
On Thursday, Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth quoted a Hamas official as saying that the Islamic movement has answered all questions related to the swap and that the deal was in Israel's hands.
Israel said last week that it refused to release about 50 prisoners in the list of the 450 Palestinian militants Hamas insists on freeing.
In early October, Israel released 20 Palestinian women prisoners in return for a "proof-of-life" video tape of Shalit that showed him to be in good health.
Jailed Fatah leader says prisoners swap in final phase
RAMALLAH, Dec. 9 (Xinhua) -- A Fatah leader in prison said the prisoners exchange negotiations between Hamas and Israel reached final and critical point, the Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper reported Wednesday.
Marwan al-Barghouti, a Fatah leader serving life sentence, said in an interview with the newspaper in his jail that he hopes "the swap to take place soon as it has entered its final, most difficult phase." Full story
Abbas: No swap deal reached so far on Israeli Shalit
CAIRO, Dec. 9 (Xinhua) -- No swap deal has been reached so far between the Islamist group Hamas and Israel on freeing kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday in Sharm el-Sheikh of Egypt, reported Egypt's MENA news agency.
After talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the Red Sea resort, Abbas, when asked about his expectation of the deal, said that according to available information, talks are currently held among the parties concerned on the details of the deal, including the number of those to be set free. Full story
Special Report: Palestine-Israel Conflicts