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Last Updated: Monday, 28 November 2005, 10:55 GMT
Gaza gang seizes lion in zoo raid
Lion cubs play in a zoo
Young lion cubs like Sabrina and Fakhra can be very close
A lioness cub and two Arabic-speaking parrots have been kidnapped from a zoo in Gaza.

Gunmen overpowered the zookeeper before flinging a blanket over the cub, called Sabrina, and the two birds.

Palestinian officials kept the theft secret for several weeks in an effort to track down the thieves.

A reward has now been offered as the zoo hopes to bring back the animals - and cheer up Fakhra the lion, Sabrina's cub mate, said to be heartbroken.

Suod al-Shawaa, chairman of the zoo's board, told Palestinian newspapers that it took four gunmen to carry out the attack.

Police believe the animals have not been taken out of the Gaza Strip, and are being imprisoned, perhaps by a Mafia-style gang.

There are suspicions that Sabrina was kidnapped to be kept as a show of strength by a criminal gang.

They have received intelligence suggesting that Sabrina is still alive, but appear no closer to catching the kidnappers.

Reward

Mr Shawaa has offered a $1,000 (586) reward for information leading to Sabrina's return.

The BBC's Alan Johnston in Gaza says human abductions in the Gaza Strip usually end with the victim being freed quite quickly and unharmed.

Sabrina and Fakhra are among the star attractions at Gaza's small zoo, which opened last month.

The lioness cub is reported to weigh about 20kg (44lb), and can eat her way through several kilograms of meat each day.

When fully grown, lionesses can reach 130kg (287lb) or more.

As well as lions and parrots, the zoo is home to squirrels, monkeys, an ostrich and some household pets.

Gaza's previous zoo, in the southern town of Rafah, was levelled in an Israeli raid in 2004.


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