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Organizer Mohammed Silmi said female performers had to stay behind because the circus was worried that leaping ladies in tights would offend Gazans.

He said Hamas didn’t explicitly ban women but he was asked to abide by Gaza’s “traditions” when he petitioned to get the circus to come.

In practice, the circus wiggled a little around the no-women rule. At one point a man in drag, sporting a brown wig and red dress, sang and danced with Bunduk the clown.

After Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade that aimed to weaken the militants who seek Israel’s destruction.

Under international pressure, it was loosened after Israel raided a blockade-defying boat and killing nine Turkish activists aboard in 2009. Key restrictions still remain on exports and importing raw materials.

All the circus equipment came through the Rafah border crossing, but expensive fees and cumbersome paperwork kept the circus from bringing lions, tigers and horses across the border.

Gaza’s makeshift zoos and other merchants often bypass that problem by hauling animals through smuggling tunnels linking the territory to Egypt. In one famous scene captured on film, Gazans used a crane to lift a camel over the border fence as the animal twitched in the air in agony.

Animal welfare aside, Gaza’s main zoo recently turned to improvised taxidermy to keep its deceased animals on exhibit.

The area also continues to be violent. As circus technicians were setting up their tent earlier this week, Palestinian militants were fighting Israeli forces in tit-for-tat rounds of rocket fire and retaliatory airstrikes.

Egyptian technician Khalil Gomaa, 55, jolted upon every crashing boom. He told his children he was in Jordan so they wouldn’t be worried. “But I’m worried,” he said.

But the circus’ biggest challenge may be packing the 1,000-seater tent for the month-long visit.

A series of Palestinians interviewed didn’t know what a circus was, and the tickets _ ranging from $5-$10 seats _ are too expensive for most of Gaza’s traditionally large families.

Some 40 percent of Gazans live on less than $2 a day, a third are unemployed and most need U.N. donated food.

They include the mother of eight, Sabrine Baoud, and her unemployed husband. After the circus was explained to her, Baoud, 35, said she was glad her children didn’t know anything about it.

They’d never be able to afford to go.