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French Version

Jordan on maximum alert over bird flu

One-week deadline for killing all domestic fowl

Jordan declared a state of maximum alert Thursday after the virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu was discovered in the neighboring West Bank and Israel. Health Minister Said Darwazeh issued a one-week deadline for "people raising domestic fowl to get rid of them, after which the competent authorities will have them killed," an official source said.

The Israeli agriculture ministry said Thursday that H5N1, which can be fatal to humans, had been found in the Beqaot settlement in the Jordan Valley just across the river from Jordan, hot on the heels of its detection in both the Gaza Strip and six farms inside Israel.

Darwazeh told a meeting of the government bird flu commission that "the state of preparation and alert has been raised to a maximum level, in particular inspection operations of chicken farms in the Jordan Valley."

He also said that an evacuation exercise would be carried out on Jordanian farms on Tuesday to measure preparedness.

The Jordanian health minister said he will make unannounced visits to poultry farms in the valley to inspect the precautions farmers are taking against the virus.

Jordan had already banned imports of poultry products and pet birds. It has also imported 60,000 doses of Tamiflu used to treat humans afflicted with H5N1. To handle an outbreak it allocated $8.5 million. Most of that would go to vaccinating poultry and compensating owners of destroyed flocks.

The discovery of deadly bird flu in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is pushing the two sides to work together despite plummeting relations.

Israel said on Thursday it would supply Palestinian teams with protective gear and professional assistance.

The agreement was reached in a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian agriculture and veterinary officials at the Erez Crossing to the Gaza Strip on Wednesday night.

"The agriculture ministry has agreed to supply the Palestinians with protective gear and other equipment as well as advice and instructions on how to deal with the outbreak," an Israeli official said.

Asked whether cooperation would end when the new Hamas-led government is sworn in, Dror replied: "We will have to find a way to deal with the bird flu issue, maybe through international organizations. But we will find a way to speak to the Palestinians - there are things you have to coordinate, this flu can kill people."

The deputy agriculture minister in the outgoing Palestinian government, Azzam Tbeileh, said Israel had an obligation to help under international law because the territories remained under its occupation.

"It's the occupation's responsibility. We don't have vaccines and protective suits," Tbeileh said.

"We are going to maintain the highest degree of coordination and cooperation with the Israelis, but there are huge difficulties. We live under occupation and there are roadblocks. Even I have to go through the roadblocks." The official stressed that it was in Israel's interest to cooperate.

"This virus knows no boundaries, nor is kept out by the separation wall" that Israel is building the length of the West Bank, he said.

Israel has banned all exports of poultry products but the European Commission nonetheless extended an imports ban Thursday until the end of July.

Aid organization CARE International has been working with both the Palestinian authorities and foreign governments and agencies.

"There was a meeting with donors," said Ayman Shwaibi, the group's bird flu coordinator.

"I know that most of them ... are interested in helping the Palestinians to fight the virus," he said.

The Daily Star

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