Good news stories out of the Gaza Strip are few and far between. So when two lion cubs were born on Sunday in one of the strip's bleak zoos, it was cause for celebration in Gaza and covered by media outlets across the region and beyond.
But after just a few days, the lion cubs - one male and one female - have died, the director of the Bissan Zoo confirmed to ABC news today. The exact cause of death is not yet known. Some speculated that the cubs caught something from all the visitors that had come to see them, while others blamed the generally highly polluted nature of one of the most densely populated places on earth.
The cubs' birth was trumpeted by Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza. Its armed wing, the Al Qassam Brigades tweeted: "For the first time, a lioness gives birth to 2 cubs in the besieged Gaza," adding the hashtag, "#landoflions."
Even Israeli newspaper Haaretz ran the headline: "Mazal tov: Lion cubs born in Gaza!"
So proud were they that the cubs were given names referencing last November's eight-day war with Israel, which Hamas claims to have won. Almost 160 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed. The male was named "Fajr" for the type of rocket Hamas fired at Israel. The female was named "Sejeel" which means "clay" in Arabic, a reference to the name Hamas gave the conflict, "Operation Stones of Clay."
Israel imposes a land and sea blockade around Gaza, tightly controlling the flow of people and supplies. But there is a vast network of smuggling tunnels between Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula through which pass everything from food to construction materials to weapons and cars. The cubs' parents had been smuggled into Gaza from Egypt in 2006 and several of the lioness' previous pregnancies had failed.
"Despite #Israel's unjust siege, #Palestinians managed to smuggle these 2 lions to draw a smile on faces of Gaza kids," the al Qassam Brigades tweeted.