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Israel helps Gaza cope with H5N1 bird flu

By Staff
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JERUSALEM, Mar 23 (Reuters) Israel said today it would supply Palestinian teams with protective gear and professional assistance following an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus in the densely populated Gaza Strip.

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

Cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is becoming increasingly rare as the militant Islamist Hamas movement prepares to swear in its government after winning an election in January.

''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.

Israel has been testing dead fowl found in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on behalf of the Palestinian Authority for months.

Laboratory tests confirmed an outbreak of the deadly avian virus at a chicken farm in the Gaza Strip and tests were underway to check whether the virus had also infected poultry at a location near the southern Gaza city of Rafah, officials said.

Israel has said it would have no formal dealings with a government run by Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel's destruction, though government sources have suggested that lower level cooperation between professionals may continue.

A TEST FOR BOTH SIDES Combating the H5N1 bird flu which reached the Holy Land after rippling out from Asia to the West Asia, Europe and Africa will test the ability of Israelis and Palestinians to cooperate on what could become an agriculture and health crisis.

Bird flu can infect people who come into close contact with infected poultry and has killed about 100 people since late 2003.

Experts fear the virus will mutate into a form that passes easily from person to person, sparking a pandemic in which millions could die and which could cripple the global economy.

Israel is in the process of culling around 800,000 turkeys and chickens to contain the virus which erupted last week.

There was evidence to suggest the deadly avian flu strain had spread from six farms in southern Israel to poultry coops at a farm on an isolated Jewish settlement in the West Bank, the officials said. Final results had not been obtained.

The outbreak in Israel is believed to have come from Egypt where a woman died of the virus last week.

Six of the seven Israeli farms hit by the virus are located near Egypt. Rafah, were a possible outbreak has been reported, is on Gaza's border with Egypt.

Israeli officials have said there have been no cases of humans contracting the virus in Israel.

Reuters SY BD2024

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