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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 May, 2004, 20:53 GMT 21:53 UK
Rafah zoo levelled in Israel raid
By Alan Johnston
BBC correspondent in Gaza

A Palestinian youth holds an injured racoon after pulling it from the rubble of the destroyed Rafah zoo
Many animals were injured as the tanks rolled through the zoo
Among the casualties of the Israeli raid into the Rafah refugee camp has been the local zoo - the only one in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli army probably took about 10 minutes to turn it into a wasteland, with tanks churning the whole area into an expanse of mud and twisted metal.

There were ostriches, kangaroos and crocodiles, but the zoo's pride was its jaguar - he is missing now.

An ostrich is rotting in the rubble and its stench hangs over the ruins.

'Zoo for deprived'

Mohamed Jumaa and his brother, Fateh, spent more than 10 years building Rafah zoo.

Palestinian youth rubs the back of a horse as it stands next to its barn at the destroyed Rafah zoo
The zoo had been an important attraction in a deprived area
The Jumaa brothers say that their zoo was important, it was somewhere for children to go in what is the most deprived corner of the Gaza Strip.

Kids came in their hundreds, and they loved it.

One of the kangaroos was hurt when the tanks came but survived, and the other is on the loose somewhere in Rafah.

So are all the monkeys and one of the pythons.

The fox got away, but when he turned up in a private house the frightened owner attacked him with a saw - later, the vet had to amputate a leg.

When the aviary was smashed, the parrots, cockatiels and lovebirds took flight.

Far up the Gaza Strip, people say they've been hearing strange birdsong.

The army insists that it had to send its tanks through the zoo because Palestinian fighters had booby-trapped the road beside it.

The week before, five Israeli families had lost their sons in Rafah when a roadside bomb tore apart their troop-carrier.

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