Tension rises as bulldozers tear down zoo in Rafah

With a parrot that had escaped the Israelis perched on his shoulder, and a kangaroo crouching in the corner of the room, Mohammed Juma contemplated the little that was left of the zoo he had spent five years creating. "This was my life," he declared. "I watched my dream being destroyed."

With a parrot that had escaped the Israelis perched on his shoulder, and a kangaroo crouching in the corner of the room, Mohammed Juma contemplated the little that was left of the zoo he had spent five years creating. "This was my life," he declared. "I watched my dream being destroyed."

The first bulldozer, he said, had come, escorted by a tank, at 2am on Thursday morning. Between then and when Israeli soldiers left the zoo at dawn yesterday, he had watched as the army killed birds and animals, uprooted shrubs, trees and grass, destroyed pens and cages, and then dumped much of the debris and wreckage into the zoo's swimming pool.

The despoliation of the zoo at the Brazil refugee camp may seem insignificant after 41 Palestinian deaths in Rafah this week and the trail of destruction left by the Israelis elsewhere in the Al Salaam and Brazil camps - the Israelis demolished an estimated 43 homes in Brazil, reducing them to rubble still awaiting clearance yesterday - but it is a potent symbol of the much wider havoc wrought in the two camps and a third, Tel Sultan, since the Rafah incursion began on Monday.

The zoo, the only one in the Gaza Strip, was perhaps the only attraction for children in a town almost entirely without public amenities. Admission cost just one shekel - about 12p. The destruction betrayed a wantonness that went beyond anything that could be deemed militarily necessary to hunt down militants or find tunnels used to smuggle explosives. Although soldiers commandeered the top floor of one of the three buildings for sniper positions, it was much more difficult to explain the damage to the harmless recreation space below their vantage point.

Mr Juma insisted that he had watched with his own eyes as the Israeli bulldozer drivers broke into a cage containing 40-45 Macaw parrots and put them into the cabin of one of the bulldozers before taking them away. "It looked as though the drivers knew about animals," he said.

According to Mr Juma, 40, the Army also released some 80 animals, including monkeys, a fox, a non-poisonous snake and - adding yet another danger to those already faced by the residents of the Brazil camp - seven jaguars. Mr Juma held a sickly looking raccoon in his arms, betraying a deep gash under its hind legs, and pointed to a long row of feathers on the ground indicating a dead ostrich buried beneath the debris.

The Israeli Army claimed last night that it had been forced to pass through the zoo because explosive devices had been planted in the roads and that it had made "every effort not to harm any of the animals". But Mr Juma said: "I believe they planned to do this. I can't call the Israelis animals because animals are beautiful."

Despite the partial withdrawal from the Brazil camp yesterday, the Israelis made it clear that the operation would continue. Some tanks remained in the camp as a funeral procession followed the bodies of four militants killed by Israeli forces in the past 24 hours, including Khaled Abu Maza, head of Hamas's military wing in Rafah. Abu Maza was killed by a missile targeted at him while he was in the Al Salaam camp.

But in the absence of any new finds of tunnelling, Gideon Ezra, a Likud government minister, said that the operation would rely increasingly on intelligence, while a senior Army officer was quoted by Israeli media as saying that Palestinians in Rafah would not yet be able to "rest easy".

Residents in the Brazil camp talked angrily of homes destroyed by bulldozers, despite earlier denials by the army that this was happening.

The army destroyed a one-and-a-half acre olive grove in the centre of the camp, uprooting its 300 trees and the home of the owner's father, Suleman Qishta, 95. The owner, Mehidan Qishta, said that a bulldozer had pushed through the wall as his father lay on his bed. Debris which had crashed down on the bed was still visible yesterday, as were cuts and bruises on the old man's arms and legs. "I heard my father screaming after the bulldozer came," said Mr Qishta. "I thought he was dying."

Shakria Khamis, 60, tried to stay in her house even after a bulldozer pushed through a wall. Her daughter, Iktimal Awad, 35, said: "My mother was shouting, 'I don't want to leave'." She was forced to flee as masonry continued to fall.

Ms Awad's sister, Menal, who works at a health centre in Gaza, said she had lost many souvenirs. She said: "A human being is worth more than these items, but my memories of this house are unforgettable."

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event
filmBut why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
News
i100
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride