Israel: China 'agrees to gift pandas' to Haifa zoo

Two young pandas eating bamboo Image copyright AFP
Image caption From China, with love: A gift that few people would want to return

Panda diplomacy will soon be arriving in the Middle East, after China agreed to gift two of its much-loved bears to Israel, it's been reported.

A zoo in the northern city of Haifa will become home to the new arrivals, according to the Israel Hayom website. Haifa recently signed a twinning agreement with the Chinese city of Chengdu, home to a famous panda breeding centre. Aside from being cute and cuddly, the city's mayor thinks pandas are also a potent anti-racism symbol. "It is black, white, Asian and still beloved and adored by the entire world," he tells the website. While Israel Hayom is excited about the "extraordinary gesture", the Haaretz newspaper sounds a note of caution, saying the deal won't be officially sealed until Chinese officials are happy that conditions are perfect for the precious bears. Zoo staff must now visit Chengdu to learn about panda care, and they'll also have to build a special panda compound that meets with Chinese officials' approval.

China has given bears to other countries for hundreds of years in order to strengthen diplomatic ties, but the pandas are only on loan. Typically they are given away for 10 years, although any cubs born while abroad can be called home sooner, as happened to American-born Tai Shan in 2009. But if everything falls into place at Haifa's zoo, "Israelis risk the danger of melting into helpless puddles of love," Haaretz says. "We're game. Beijing, bring it on."

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