September 20th, 2011
02:13 PM ET
By the CNN Wire Staff
(CNN) - Egypt has forbidden the picking and exporting of palm fronds used in the upcoming Jewish holiday of Sukkot, leaving Israel scrambling to make up for the shortage.
But one Egyptian customs official said the ban so far has not been implemented.
The fronds of the date palm, called lulavs, are waved during Sukkot, which celebrates the ancient wanderings of the Jewish people after their exile from Egypt. The seven-day holiday begins on the evening of October 12.
"The Agriculture Ministry is working for the complete supply of lulavs for anyone who wants one after it became apparent that picking and exporting them from Sinai is completely forbidden this year," the ministry said.
"As a result of the new circumstances, the Minister of Agriculture, Orit Noked, encourages Israeli palm tree growers to significantly increase the number of lulavs to be given for the Sukkot holiday. At the same time, we will advance alternatives to importing palm trees so that everyone can observe the obligations of Sukkot."
The minister also said the agency would help supply Israelis "with lulavs at a fair price by encouraging domestic date farmers to greatly boost their supply."
The incident comes amid frosty relations between Israel and the new leadership in Egypt.
Egypt has been incensed by the killings of Egyptian police, who died when Israeli commandos went after militants who had launched attacks against Israeli citizens near the Egyptian-Israeli border last month. Also, Israel was upset after Egyptian citizens angry about their country's relations with Israel stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo.
Egypt banned the export of palm fronds on August 10 "in order to preserve the fortunes of the palm groves" according to Wahman Ahmed, a spokesman for the Egyptian ministry of agriculture.
Ashraf Al Azzazy, the manager of Al Awja customs, told CNN the palm fronds are mainly exported to Israel through the Al Awja commercial border crossing in the town of El Arish in northern Sinai.
"About 600,000 fronds go through our borders each year but so far the ban has not been implemented, " Al Azzazy said. "This season normally three to five tons are exported through the crossing on trucks that go directly to Israel. They need it for their Jewish religious rituals."
Al Azzazy, noting that Israelis also get palm fronds from Jordan through the West Bank, said the Egyptian product is much better and more expensive. Egyptian dealers in Sinai now wrap their products in nylon sheets and pack them in cartons for better quality.
Judge Zakaria Abdel Aziz, former head of the Egyptian Judicial Courts of Appeal, said there has been talk among top Egyptian officials about implementing the ban after the deaths of the Egyptian security personnel, but there has been no court order.
Haaretz, the Israeli daily newspaper, said the ban involves Israel and the Jewish diaspora. It said that Israel previously has imported 700,000 palm fronds yearly.
"In addition, about 700,000 of the 2 million lulavs purchased in Jewish communities in the Diaspora, primarily in North America and Europe, normally come from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. "
The Israeli Agriculture Ministry "will issue special licenses to allow the import of lulavs from Spain, Jordan and the Gaza Strip, so that no major shortage is experienced in the run-up to the holiday. The ministry will require that palm fronds coming into the country be inspected to prevent the spread of plant disease," the newspaper said.
–CNN's Joe Sterling, Izzy Lemberg and Mohamed Fadel Fahmy contributed to this report.
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