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Gaza economy crippled by Israeli trade ban -

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TONY JONES: Beyond the political turmoil in the Gaza Strip, its economy is also being crippled by
Israeli bans on trade with the territory and thousands of Australian cattle caught up in the
blockade.

Israel has banned shipments of Australian cattle to Gaza, which is controlled by Islamist militant
group Hamas. Now the most recent shipment of cattle from Australia has just been allowed into Gaza
after months of delay, but as our Middle East correspondent Matt Brown reports from Gaza, the
consignment will be the last.

MATT BROWN: Around 6,000 cattle have been trapped in Israeli quarantine for months. They were sent
from Australia destined for the dinner tables of the 1.5 million Palestinians who live in the Gaza
Strip. But Israel has the territory surrounded. It's imposed a blockade on Gaza and will let
through only the most basic goods.

MARK REGEV, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN: No one wants to see any sort of humanitarian
problem in Gaza. We're working with the UN, flour and oil and necessary items are coming into Gaza
on a regular basis. That does not include beef.

MATT BROWN: Israel already had the territory all but locked down. But the Australian cattle were
caught in an escalating conflict when the Islamist militant group Hamas took control of Gaza in
June. Israel says the strip is now a hostile territory. In October, the Israeli military killed 28
Palestinians. Most were militants but the dead included two children and one disabled man, and the
blockade has intensified.

MARK REGEV: You have a situation where over the last four months you've had more than 1,000 rockets
come from Gaza into Israel trying to kill our people. And as long as that's the situation, there
can't be business as usual.

MATT BROWN: However, after the Israeli Agriculture Ministry raised concerns about the welfare of
the cattle, they were allowed to run the gauntlet. Thousands have now made it through, to wholesale
yards just inside Gaza's border with Israel.

But this shipment will satisfy the needs of only a few beef merchants. Palestinians are about to
celebrate an important Muslim feast, when tens of thousands of cattle are usually slaughtered. Beef
retailers like Ali say their market is being ruined.

ALI ABU RAIYA, PALESTINIAN BEEF RETAILER (TRANSLATED): At this time, our business should be
booming. We should make profits to buy more cattle but because of the closures we don't have
anything to sell.

MATT BROWN: Israel says in line with the ban on trade with Gaza, further shipments of Australian
beef have also been banned.

MARK REGEV: The market is not an issue. What is an issue is the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
With all the respect to Australian farmers and beef farmers, I don't think even the UN would say
Australian beef is a humanitarian essential.

MATT BROWN: Because Gaza's market has been starved of basic commodities, the price of most imported
goods has been on the rise. Even the price of animal feed has increased dramatically and it's out
of reach of many. Like so many other traders in Gaza, those in the cattle industry say their
businesses will soon collapse for good.

Israel says it won't let the situation in Gaza develop into a full blown humanitarian crisis. But
in so many ways, the economy here is being destroyed.

Matt Brown, Lateline.