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Animals caught in crossfire, trapped at Gaza zoo

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories--The lions sit dazed in the shade of their damaged pen, while nearby the decayed carcasses of two vervet monkeys lie contorted on the grass of a Gaza zoo.

The animals were caught in the crossfire in over a month of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants that killed more than 1,960 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side.

In one enclosure at the zoo a fly-covered pelican huddles in the corner with a duck. Opposite, a small crocodile sits motionless in an inch of stagnant water, next to the rotting corpse of a stork.

A gazelle shares another pen with a goose.

Around the corner, a baboon picks listlessly at the ground of the tiny pen it shares with the dried-out remains of another monkey.

Everywhere, there is a sickly stench from the animals' cages, which have not been cleaned for weeks.

Shadi Hamad, the park's director, said the zoo was damaged and that the animals died as a result of Israeli air strikes.

An Israeli army spokesman told AFP that the military was looking into allegations that it fired missiles in the Al-Bisan park area.

Israel launched an air campaign over Gaza on July 8 to take out militants' rockets, followed by a ground offensive nine days later to destroy a network of Hamas cross-border tunnels leading into the Jewish state.

The zoo — part of Al-Bisan City — was built by the Hamas government in 2008 as a tourist village to give Gazans some relief from the hardships of life in the Strip, and had a cafeteria and tables where families could sit and relax.

The animals were all smuggled through tunnels that connected Egypt to Gaza, before the passages were shut last year with the ouster of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, a key ally of the Islamist movement Hamas.

Now, Al-Bisan is far from relaxing, with the wire of its enclosures twisted and crushed, debris and dead animals strewn around, and the remains of militant rocket launchers lying nearby.

“Before the war the area was very beautiful. There were trees, lots of greenery, palm trees. It was an area for children, there were playgrounds and areas for families,” zookeeper Farid al-Hissi said.

Hissi got his job at Al-Bisan after working in a zoo in Israel and because of his love for animals.

The death of the animals he cared for has clearly left him in a state of shock.

“Eight monkeys were killed, and an ostrich was killed too. The lion's enclosure was wrecked and the zoo was completely destroyed. The Al-Bisan zoo was totally devastated,” he said.

The administrative centre has been flattened and some of the palm trees lining the avenue from the entrance down to the animal enclosures have been uprooted.

'Makes you sad'

The destruction to the zoo has shaken Hissi badly.

“You can see that the cages for the animals are badly damaged. When you see it, it makes you sad because they are in a jail now,” he said, standing by the lion enclosure.

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A zookeeper inspects the damage at the Bisan City tourist village zoo, in Beit Hanun on Thursday, Aug. 14.

AFP

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