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Pair of lions kept as pets by Gaza family arrive in Jordan

In this Monday, June 15, 2015 photo, Ibrahim Al-Jamal, 17, kisses Max, the male lion cub, while sitting inside a car in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip. Saduldin al-Jamal had bought the cubs from the Gaza zoo, hit during last summer's Israel-Hamas war. His family would take them to parks or the beach and children -- those brave enough -- would come up to pet them. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Two young lions that had been kept as pets in a Gaza refugee camp traveled Sunday to Jordan where their final destination will be a wildlife sanctuary.

A Gaza family had bought the lions as cubs from a local zoo that was damaged in last year’s war between Israel and Gaza’s rulers from the Islamic militant Hamas group. The family kept Mona and Max in their small home in the crowded Rafah refugee camp.

The lions and their handlers arrived in Jordan on Sunday evening after leaving Gaza earlier in the day, said Dr. Amir Khalil of the British charity Four Paws.

The journey hit an unexpected delay on Friday when Four Paws made its first attempt to take the lions out of Gaza, via the Erez crossing with Israel.

Israel and Egypt have severely restricted travel in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized the territory in 2007.

Cogat, the branch of the Israeli military that handles movement from Gaza to Israel, said the animals and their entourage showed up without prior notification after the crossing was already closed Friday. For several hours, the one-year-old cats were trapped in no-man’s land when Hamas denied their re-entry back into Gaza.

The group eventually checked into a Gaza hotel to wait for the crossing to reopen Sunday. Mona and Max were tied next to their crates in the hotel’s garden.

This story has been corrected to show that the name of the charity is Four Paws, not Four Paws International.

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