Palestinian farmers in the Gaza Strip, afraid of losing their means of livelihood and receiving no compensation from the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, have been unwilling to kill their chickens after an outbreak of bird flu last week.
"The farmers are not letting us into their coops. They don’t want to kill their chickens and are demanding compensation," Azzam Tbeileh, the deputy Palestinian agriculture minister, told Agence France Presse on Sunday.
Israeli farmers, who had to kill over 1 million chickens last week, have been given compensation for their loss by the Israeli government. But Palestinian farmers have been hesitant to follow suit, for fear that the Palestinian government will be unwilling or unable to compensate them for their loss.
The agricultural minister warned that the authorities may have to resort to the use of force in the wake of the detection last week of the potentially deadly strain of the H5N1 strain of bird flu.
"Today we will give them a last chance to liquidate their stock otherwise we will use force. We will deploy security forces to take them out of the farms and slaughter the chickens," he said Sunday.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) urged international donors on Saturday to provide urgent aid to the Palestinian Authority to contain the outbreak in the Gaza Strip.
"According to the international guidelines, the local authorities should start containment measures, which include culling birds within a radius of three kilometres (two miles) around the location of the outbreak," it said.
The WHO said that in addition to two confirmed cases in Juhr al-Deik in the centre of the territory and Rafah in the south, there were a further two suspected cases in El-Bureij in the centre and Beit Lahia in the north.
No human cases have been detected.
In an interview Friday, Israel’s Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that assistance was being offered to the Palestinians to help them deal with the bird flu outbreak, but did not indicate what that assistance entailed. He did not offer to release the freeze on Palestinian tax money, which Israeli authorities illegally seized last month. The release of that tax money would provide the money necessary to compensate Palestinian chicken farmers who are forced to kill their flock.
Israel has promised to cut off all relations with the Palestinian Authority after the new cabinet, made up of members of the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, is sworn in on Wednesday.