Israel aims to keep Gaza diseases at bay

100,000 vaccines sent to Gazan farmers to immunize livestock so as to prevent infections from hitting Israel.

arabs horse 88 224 (photo credit: )
arabs horse 88 224
(photo credit: )
Officials at the Agriculture Ministry are deeply concerned about the porous border between Gaza and Egypt and say the risk of animal and plant diseases spreading to Israel has significantly increased since the breaching of the frontier last month. On Monday, Israel will send 100,000 vaccination doses into Gaza to help farmers immunize their livestock against four diseases as part of a strategy to stop the spread of infections into Israel. Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon might soon decide to permanently end all movement of agricultural goods from Gaza to Israel, or from Gaza to Europe via Israel, due to the large quantities of livestock and plants that have entered the Strip from Egypt without any form of quality control, the ministry said in a statement. For the past six months, no Gazan livestock has been allowed to enter Israel or the West Bank, but the ministry cautioned that the recent border breach had increased the chances of dangerous livestock diseases finding their way into Israel since "diseases don't respect official boundaries." Around 10,000 sheep and 300 cattle have entered Gaza from Sinai, as well as large numbers of poultry, a Palestinian veterinary official told his Israeli counterpart. According to the World Health Organization, Egypt suffers from a large number of livestock diseases including bird flu, hoof-and-mouth disease, and rift valley fever - a disease which can infect humans. "I unequivocally call for a ban on livestock from Gaza," Moshe Hamovich, director of Veterinary Services at the Agricultural Ministry, told The Jerusalem Post. "Egypt has no veterinary monitoring of cattle and beef. It has been seriously harmed by bird flu and other diseases, and this poses a threat to Israel," he said. In December, four Egyptians died of bird flu. Since the disease first appeared in Egypt in 2006, 43 human infections - 19 of them fatal - have been confirmed by the Egyptian Health Ministry. "Israeli and Palestinian veterinary services are cooperating with each other and exchanging information, but we do not know what has entered Gaza," Hamovich said. The threat to Israel's crops and plant life has also increased, Eldad Lands, director of Plant Protection and Inspection Services at the Agriculture Ministry, told the Post. "Egypt is an African state. It has insects that can seriously harm crops and trees. There are large numbers of flies in Egypt that devour fruit, and they can enter Gaza. In fact, that is what is happening," Lands said. The flies can travel 50 km. a day "without a problem," he said, adding that palm trees also faced danger in the form of weevil beetles, common in Egypt. Since disengagement from Gaza in 2005, the ministry has set up lines of pest control defenses aimed at preventing the infiltration of dangerous insects from Gaza, an initiative described by Lands as "being a lot like a real military operation." The pest controls are designed to prevent the insects from passing a 30 km. zone between the Gaza border and the rest of Israel, and are based on a series of "intelligent capture and destroy systems," Lands said. Within the 30 km. zone, male insects are "caught and destroyed intensively," he said. "These measures have worked up until now. But we are very, very concerned by the collapse of the Gaza-Egypt border and the massive movement of fruits and vegetables from Egypt into Gaza," Lands said.