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Posts

Remains of 91 Palestinians returned from Israel


Israel returns the remains of Palestinian bodies

Jon Donnison tells of emotional scenes in Ramallah

BBC news
31.05.12

Israel has handed over to the Palestinian Authority the remains of 91 Palestinians who died carrying out attacks against Israel.

The remains include suicide bombers and militants who died in operations as far back as 1975.

The repatriation of the bodies forms part of a deal to end a mass hunger strike by hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Israeli officials say the transfer is a confidence-building gesture.

However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has given no indication that he is willing to return to talks.

Coffins containing the remains, which had been interred in numbered graves in an Israeli military cemetery for “enemy combatants”, were handed over at dawn.

21-gun salute
The head of the Palestinian general committee for civil affairs said 79 coffins were transferred to Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority (PA) has its headquarters.

The official said the other 12 were taken to Gaza, which is run by the militant Islamist Hamas movement.

President Abbas, the head of the PA, attended a ceremony at his compound, Muqataa, to receive the coffins, each of them draped in a Palestinian flag.

According to Israeli media, Hamas will hold a full military service for the remains in Gaza, with each coffin receiving a 21-gun salute. They will then be shuttled to various towns for burial.

The repatriation has long been a sensitive issue often subject to prolonged negotiations, the BBC’s Jon Donnison in Ramallah says.

The dead are considered martyrs by Palestinians, but terrorists by Israelis, and their remains are used as bargaining chips, he says.

Earlier this month, Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails agreed to end a mass hunger strike, which had been going on for more than two months.

More than 1,500 Palestinians had been refusing food to demand an improvement in conditions.

There were fears of a violent Palestinian backlash, had any of the inmates died.

The mother of one of the dead, Um Ramez Obeid, said the transfer made her “very happy”.

“We have waited for this moment for 16 years. The more they talked about the deal to hand over the bodies, the more we hoped his body will be among them.

“God willing they will hand over his body to us, to be buried next to his father at the cemetery. We will visit him, even if he is dead and is in the grave, I feel that he is returned to me.”

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said he hoped the “humanitarian gesture” would help get the peace process back on track.

“Israel is ready for the immediate resumption of peace talks without any preconditions whatsoever,” he said.

Direct talks collapsed in December 2010 over Israel’s refusal to stop building settlements in the occupied West Bank.
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Analysis

Jon Donnison BBC News, West Bank

Palestinians don’t have a state but the ceremony today had some of the trappings of a state funeral. Proceedings were led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

There was a military feel. A lone bugler played the Last Post and Palestinian security forces offered a salute, firing into the air.

Relatives of the dead then carried the coffins draped in red, black, white and green Palestinian flags and loaded them on to trucks. The remains will now be reburied.

For most Palestinians, these men were martyrs who died fighting for the Palestinian cause. Some were suicide bombers. For Israelis, they were terrorists responsible for the deaths of scores of civilians.

This transfer was part of a deal earlier this month to end a mass hunger strike by hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. Israel said it was a gesture aimed at building confidence.

Such confidence is in short supply. Direct peace talks between the two sides collapsed in 2010. Most Palestinians and Israelis would say only a fool would be optimistic about a significant breakthrough any time soon.



Israel returns remains of Palestinians

Bodies of the 91 “martyrs” killed during attacks on Israel since 1967 brought to Ramallah in the West Bank.
Al Jazeera
01.06.12

Israel has handed over the remains of scores of Palestinian fighters killed in attacks on Israel.

Seventy-nine bodies were handed over to Palestinian officials in Ramallah on Thursday and another 12 were transferred to the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Authority described them as “martyrs” killed since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in 1967.

The fighters, including several suicide bombers, had been buried, some of them for decades, in a desolate Israeli military cemetery for “enemy combatants” in the West Bank.

Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton, reporting from Ramallah, said the 91 bodies were only a third of the ones still interred in unnamed graves in Israeli cemeteries.

“The majority are from Nablus and Hebron,” she said. “The families are getting simple coffins back, with the numbers they were interred in in Israel. And inside the coffins are not only the bodies but also the belongings that they were found with.”

Among the bodies were eight members of a seaborne squad which took over a Tel Aviv hotel in 1975 before being killed by Israeli commandos, in a raid in which seven hostages were also killed.

The Palestinian Authority held a short ceremony with full military honours for the fighters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Hamas held its own memorial ceremony in the Gaza Strip.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Ramallah, Fatima Abdulkarim of the Jerusalem Aid and Human Rights Centre, criticised the dealings of the Israeli government but said it was “a historic moment for the Palestinians”.

“We lack trust in the unilateral Israeli process. We are not in touch with the Israeli side on whose bodies have been released, how the DNA was tested or how the identification has been established,” Abdulkarim said.

“We are basing our appeals on the fact that people need to know and have closure to their stories that have been open for years.”

‘Pray on his grave’

Near the crossing from Israel to Gaza, families held framed pictures of their dead sons as they awaited the bodies.
Ahmad Kahlout’s 21-year-old son Yehiya was killed 17 years ago after he raided an Israeli settlement.

“I am happy they are sending back his body so I can go and pray on his grave before I die,” said Kahlout, 78.

“Until my dying day I will be proud of him, but also sad for the years I wasn’t able to visit his grave.”

Among the remains returning to Gaza is Reem al-Reashi, a Hamas suicide bomber who blew herself up at an Israeli army checkpoint in 2004, killing four soldiers. Her husband said parts of her body had already been buried. The rest was now on its way.

The return of the bodies was announced on May 14 by the office of Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, in what it called “a gesture to President [Mahmoud] Abbas”.

“It is our hope that this humanitarian gesture will serve both as a confidence-building measure and help get the peace process back on track,” Mark Regev, a spokesman for Netanyahu, said.

“Israel is ready for the immediate resumption of peace talks without any preconditions whatsoever,” he said.

Abbas has demanded a halt to Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a condition for returning to peace talks that collapsed over the settlement issue in 2010.

The official Palestinian WAFA news agency said the remains would be transferred to families but 17 would be buried in a mass grave in Ramallah because their families could not be identified.

In July, Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, blocked the transfer of the remains of 84 Palestinians buried in numbered graves in the Jordan Valley “cemetery of enemy combatants”, citing the need to review their identities.

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