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Last Updated: Monday, 9 July 2007, 11:20 GMT 12:20 UK
Israeli troops rescue rare eagles
Palestinians look on as Israeli soldiers raid a pet shop in Hebron
The birds were confiscated and taken to a zoological gardens
A 30-strong platoon of elite Israeli paratroopers has taken part in a mission to rescue a pair of rare golden eagles in the West Bank town of Hebron.

The soldiers were called in by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority after it received information that the birds were being held in a house in the town.

The eagles were eventually tracked down to a pet shop, confiscated and taken to a zoo. Two Palestinians were detained.

Only six pairs of the eagles exist in the wild in Israel, the authority said.

The bird of prey has been threatened with extinction in recent years by poisoning, illegal hunting, the destruction of its habitat and a dwindling food supply.

Many have also been trapped or stolen from nests and smuggled to the Gulf, where there is said to be a considerable demand.

Cramped cages

Last week, the INPA asked for support from the Israel Defence Force after being told two golden eagles were being kept in a house in Hebron.

Aviam Atar with one of the eagles (Photo: Israel Nature and Parks Authority)
This was not the first time and, unfortunately, not the last time this will happen
Aviam Atar

The town, which is home to about 120,000 Palestinians and several hundred Jewish settlers, has been a frequent flashpoint of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

On Thursday morning, soldiers from the Paratrooper Brigade's 202nd Battalion, supported by helicopters, searched the suspected home with an INPA ranger, Aviam Atar. The birds were not there, however.

Mr Atar, protected by the paratroopers, then searched the surrounding neighbourhood and questioned local residents.

They were eventually led to a pet shop in the town centre, where the two one-year-old eagles were found in cramped cages, although in a good condition.

Mr Atar said the two Palestinian men detained for keeping the eagles gave conflicting accounts about how they had come by the birds.

One said they had bought them in a market when they were chicks and hand-reared them, while the other man said they had bought them only recently.

'Not the first time'

The birds were then confiscated and taken to the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem.

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Mr Atar said the birds would unfortunately never be released back into the wild.

"They have become used to people and cannot hunt," he told the BBC.

"However, their chicks will not have to stay at the zoo."

The ranger said at least five golden eagles had been stolen or trapped in the past three years.

"This was not the first time and, unfortunately, not the last time this will happen," he added.

Last year, Mr Atar used another Israeli army unit to help him rescue two golden eagles from a group of Bedouin in the desert. The birds were found shackled in chains.


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