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Gaza transfers lions to Jordan after war destroys zoo

Gaza's largest zoo still reeling from Israeli offensive that killed 80 animals
A lioness and two lions sit in cages on top of a lorry as they wait to be transferred from the Gaza Strip's Bisan zoo to Jordan through the Erez crossing with Israel, on September 30, 2014

A trio of traumatised lions were brought into Israel from Gaza on Wednesday on their way to a safer home at a wildlife sanctuary in Jordan after their zoo was largely destroyed during this summer’s conflict in the Palestinian enclave.

The three, two males and a pregnant lioness, were sedated by a team of Austrian veterinarians at Al-Bisan zoo in the Gaza Strip, loaded into metal crates and transported through the Erez border crossing into Israel.

Amir Khalil of the Four Paws International welfare group said the lions were in desperate need of help after the zoo was hit by airstrikes during the 50-day Israeli offensive against Gaza.

“The lions are stressed, violent and afraid of the slightest movement,” Khalil told AFP. “The animals are very sensitive and the detonations from the bombings and explosions had a very strong impact on them.”

More than 80 animals, including several monkeys, a fox, a lion, two baboons and a peacock were killed when the zoo, part of an amusement park built by Hamas in 2008, was bombed during the war that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 73 Israelis.

“Animal carcasses were scattered all over the place. The surviving animals suffer severe trauma from the deafening explosions,” Abu Sameer Sameer, the zoo’s chief veterinarian told Ynetnews, an English-language Israeli website.

The welfare group Four paws said it needed special permission to transport the lions through Israeli territory. The lions' cages underwent security checks at the Erez border before crossing into Israel.

The vast majority of Gazans cannot leave Gaza. They live under restrictions that make the narrow coastal strip, which the United Nations considers occupied by Israel, unlike anywhere else.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain in 2010 called Gaza “an open-air prison,” drawing criticism from Israel. Most Gazans are effectively trapped, unable to seek refugee status across an international border. The majority are already refugees, those who fled from what is now Israel and their descendants.

The zoo is hoping to rebuild its lion enclosure so the animals can one day return to Gaza but no potential date has been set for their return.