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Deal Preserves Greenhouses in Gaza Pullout


When Israeli settlers begin leaving Gaza Monday, they will pack up all of their possessions, dismantle their homes and synagogues and dig up their cemeteries to rebury their dead elsewhere. But under a last minute deal, most of their greenhouses will stay.

Under a deal reached days before Israel's scheduled withdrawal from Gaza, special envoy James Wolfensohn raised some $14 million in private funds to buy about 1,000 settler greenhouses, and turn them over to the Palestinians.

Settler homes and buildings will be dismantled and recycled for Palestinian use under a separate arrangement between Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Mr. Wolfensohn's deal preserves one of Gaza's largest employers.

Israel's ambassador to Washington, Daniel Ayalon, says Israel's withdrawal from 21 Gaza settlements and four in the West Bank is not only a strategic move for peace, but is also a way to improve the Palestinians' living conditions.

"As we leave Gaza, and some parts of the West Bank, we are not leaving scorched earth. On the contrary, we are leaving behind means for them to take over and immediately better their situation," Mr. Ayalon said.

Mr. Ayalon said the greenhouses now provide jobs to some 4,000 Palestinians, and could employ 6,000 more.

The majority of Gaza's residents are young and poor. The median age is 15-years-old and about 80 percent of the population lives in poverty. Unemployment is high.

Speaking to reporters in Washington on Friday, Ambassador Ayalon said Israel and the Bush administration support boosting Gaza's economy.

"We share the vision of this administration of an open Gaza, prosperous Gaza. It's an Israeli interest, it's a Palestinian interest and it's a win-win situation," he said.

However, unlike the deal to transfer the greenhouses, easing Gaza's strict border and trade controls depends on the situation after the pullout is completed, a process that could take several weeks. The ambassador says border patrols will leave sensitive areas only if Israel is assured that Palestinian officials have reigned in militant groups and halted smuggling.

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