UN and PA Cull 250,000 Chickens in Gaza, More Expected

Some 250,000 chickens have been culled in as UN and PA officials scramble to contain the spread of the avian flu. Another 250,000 fowl may be killed in the coming days.

Hana Levi Julian, | updated: 19:55

The head of the World Health Organization’s office in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas said Thursday that PA Arabs are facing nutritional challenges resulting from the avian flu pandemic.

Ambrogio Manenti told reporters at a press conference on Thursday that some 250,000 birds have been culled so far. He gave Israel and the PA high marks for working together to contain the spread of the virus but added that continued closure at the Karni crossing between Israel and Gaza has created harsh conditions for Arab residents. He and other international officials blamed Israel for reducing the amount of animal protein available to children in Gaza as a result of the closure.

The Karni crossing has been shut down by the Israel Defense Forces for most of the past three months due to repeated threats of terrorist attacks and other security concerns. Karni is the main cargo crossing into Gaza.

PA farmers and suppliers petitioned the High Court on Wednesday through Israeli human rights organizations to force the IDF to open the crossing. They claimed the closures raise concerns of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, due to reduced supplies of flour and other staples. In addition they said the PA economy has lost more than $24 million.

In the past, Israel has offered the Kerem Shalom crossing as an alternative, but the PA has turned it down, insisting that Israel open the Karni crossing despite the risks involved. Israel has refused to do so.

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process echoed Manenti’s concerns and cited Israel’s refusal to open the Karni crossing as a “significant problem.” Alvero de Soto said the “irregular opening of the Karni crossing” was partly responsible for the lack of animal protein in the PA food supply. He praised Israel for being “proactive” in dealing with the virus both in and outside Israel, but maintained that more needed to be done.

Meanwhile, Israel loaned the PA dozens of doses of the expensive anti-viral medicine, Tamiflu. Manenti praised the move but said that countries hit by the avian flu needed to have enough on hand to ensure treatment for up to 30-percent of the population – and he noted that “even Israeli can’t afford that”.

Luigi Damiani, project manager for the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, said that World Food Program officials have been discussing the possibility of adding fish to the PA diet as an alternate protein. He added that “sardines are a cheap fish, so the average person will be able to afford it”.

Damiani suggested it would help if Israel would allow fishing off the Gaza coast. Such activities have been off-limits for a long time since terrorists have tried in the past to import weapons by sea in addition to the Gaza border crossings.

He also said that compensation to Arab farmers from the UN and the PA would require more than just covering the cost of the chickens themselves. Included in the figure would be funds to cover the time the farmers had nothing to sell as well as the cost of new chickens to replace those which were killed.

Israel’s poultry industry has suffered a severe blow since the avian flu was first discovered in the country. Well over 1.2 million birds have been culled in Israel thus far. At least one slaughterhouse was closed indefinitely as a result.