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French Version

Jordanians, Israelis meet over bird flu

Palestinians want to cooperate with israel on issue

Israeli veterinary authorities met with their Jordanian counterparts on Thursday in a bid to coordinate efforts to ward off a possible bird flu epidemic, officials said.

"We met to establish close cooperation and set up an open line up between our two services for an exchange of information," Moshe Haimovitch, head of the Agriculture Ministry's veterinary service, told public radio.

He said the meeting took place on the Jordanian side of the Allenby border crossing between the two countries, which have a 1994 peace treaty, and had been "very good."

The director general of Israel's Health Ministry has said it is only a question of time before bird flu reaches the country.

"We will not be surprised if it happens in a day or two, or in a week or two," Avi Yisraeli said.

The Palestinians have not been invited to take part in the meeting.

Israel announced on Wednesday that it was drawing up plans for a mass slaughter of fowl in order to prepare for the possibility of bird flu reaching the country.

For its part, the Palestinian Authority imposed a blanket ban on the import of birds and eggs, Agriculture Minister Waleed Abed-Rabbo said.

The minister said that the move would include a ban on the import of eggs from Israel, a major source of eggs for people living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Abed-Rabbo said that his ministry had asked counterparts in Israel to supply the Palestinians with equipment to detect the virus but were still empty-handed.

Palestinian Health Minister Zihni al-Wiheidi also expressed hope that the Israelis and Palestinians could work together on the issue.

"We are not shy about coordinating with Israel because if this virus enters Israel it will affect the Palestinian territories," Wiheidi said.

"This issue is not a political issue," Wiheidi added.

Fears about bird flu were triggered by the confirmation last week that Turkey and Romania have found cases of the H5N1 strain of the virus, which has killed more than 60 people in Asia.

The big fear among experts is that H5N1 may mutate, acquiring genes from the human influenza virus that would make it highly infectious as well as lethal - possibly killing millions worldwide as the influenza pandemic of 1918 did.

Elsewhere, Cyprus stepped up measures to minimize the disease on the island by ensuring that domestic birds are kept out of contact with migratory flocks.

As one of the Mediterranean's main bird migration centers, Cypriot authorities believe that the island lies on the frontline as a high-risk zone for bird flu.

The government warned that the emergency measures will now be enforceable by law.

The measures aim to prevent domestic birds or free range chickens from coming into contact with wild or migratory birds by fencing them off in a covered area.

Additional precautions focus on farms close to sea areas, wetland sites or reservoirs, which are a popular habitat for migratory birds which stop over en route to warmer climes.

"Our overriding aim is to reduce the possibility of contact between wild birds with birds in farms or domestic birds," said Cypriot Agriculture and Environment Minister Timmis Efthymiou.

"We are in continual contact with the EU for any additional measures to be taken and a decree has been signed today [Thursday] for immediate implementation," he added.

Meanwhile, the European Commission said that preliminary tests on a suspected case of bird flu from Greece had proved negative.

Confirmation of the H5N1 strain in Greece would mark its first-ever arrival in the 25-nation bloc.

While announcing the negative result, the EU's executive arm underlined that precautionary measures slapped on the eastern Aegean Sea islet of Oinousses will therefore remain in place, pending further tests.

"At this point we cannot exclude the presence of avian flu in Greece and in the area," the European Commission said.

In Greece Thursday, three EU experts arrived on the island of Chios to help investigate the suspected case of bird flu, before heading for the Oinousses later in the day.

The Daily Star

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