3 newborn lion cubs a rare joyful sight in war-torn Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Three-day-old lion cubs were displayed in a cardboard box at a Gaza City zoo on Saturday, a rare joyous sight for children and adults, just days after Israeli planes pounded the territory and militants from Gaza fired hundreds of rockets into Israel.

Veterinarian Mahmoud al-Sultan said each cub weighed around 700 grams. He said he felt lucky the birth was successful despite the deafening noise of constant explosions during three days of fighting. The cubs’ mother had miscarried in the past, al-Sultan said.

Loud noise “causes stress for wild animals, especially lions, whose roars increase and they continue to move in a circular fashion inside the cage,” he said.

The cubs were born Friday, several hours apart, and five days after an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire ended fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad militants. Forty-nine Palestinians, including 17 children, were killed and several hundred were injured in the fighting.

The shocks of war are not the only threat to animals. Gaza is impoverished, with double-digit unemployment, largely due to a border blockade imposed by Egypt and Israel after Hamas militants took control of the territory 15 years ago.

In the past, a number of animals in small private zoos in Gaza have died of starvation or been killed in the long-running conflict, which has included four Israel-Hamas wars and countless minor skirmishes.

International animal welfare groups have carried out several evacuations to move frail lions and tigers to sanctuaries in Jordan and Africa. The costly effort to save the animals, while some 2.3 million Gazans remain largely trapped in a small territory, has also drawn criticism.

On Saturday, visitors flocked to the small Nama Zoo on the outskirts of Gaza City, with children allowed to pet the newborns. Nama is operated by a private charity, which puts it in a slightly better position than the small number of private zoos that often struggle to support the animals.

Schools run daily trips to the zoo, and the entry fee is less than $1, which helps cover costs.

The zoo is also home to a variety of birds, as well as monkeys, deer, foxes, wolves, and hyenas.

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