A Palestinian boy was mauled to death by a lioness in a private zoo in the Gaza Strip on Monday, according to the coastal territory's police force, run by the Hamas group.
Police officers said 6-year-old Hamada Iqtiet had climbed the fence in the zoo in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, and reached an opening in the cage before the lioness mauled him. An investigation was underway, they said.
The boy's family disputed the account, saying Hamada â who was visiting the Asdaa Resort with his mother and other family members, according to relatives â had only reached an outer fence, where the lion was standing, when he was attacked.
Eyewitnesses said the boy had squeezed his way through a small hole in the fence and approached the cage, upon which the lioness bit his head, with security forces pulling him away as he bled.
A disturbing video being circulated online shows the wild animal mauling the child inside the cage as onlookers scream for help. The following video is graphic in nature. Viewer discretion is advised.
The police announced a temporary seal-off of the zoo after the incident. "The police decided to temporarily close the entertainment city 'Asda'a' in Khan Yunis, pending the completion of investigations and taking safety measures in the place," said Ayman Batniji, the police spokesman in Gaza.
It was the first known fatality from animals kept at private zoos in the crowded and impoverished Palestinian territory. Gaza has several small private zoos where animals are kept in deplorable conditions.
The animals have suffered from repeated fighting between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers, neglect, starvation and lack of medical care. International animal welfare groups have carried out several missions to evacuate animals, especially lions, to safe havens in Jordan and Africa.