News24

Israel hands over 91 militants' bodies

2012-05-31 18:50

Ramallah - Israel on Thursday handed over the remains of 91 Palestinians killed during anti-Israeli attacks, some of whom died more than 40 years ago, officials on both sides said.

The transfer began before dawn, when Israel formally gave the bodies to the Palestinians at a location near the West Bank city of Jericho, with 79 of them immediately transferred to Ramallah and the other 12 sent to Gaza.

"At 04:00 [01:00 GMT] today [Thursday], we received the remains of 91 martyrs, 79 from the West Bank and 12 from Gaza who had been buried [by the Israelis] in an inhumane and unethical fashion in numbered graves in the Jordan Valley," said Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the Palestinian general committee for civil affairs.

"They will all be wrapped in a shroud and the Palestinian flag, they will be identified and have the last rites performed," he told AFP.

The remains of the 79 were transferred to the Muqataa headquarters of President Mahmud Abbas, where they were honoured with "an official ceremony and prayers for the dead", Palestinian Prisoners Minister Issa Qaraqaa told AFP.

The remaining 12 bodies were handed to Gaza's Hamas rulers through the Erez border crossing in the early afternoon.

As they were transported into the coastal territory, the dead were greeted by hundreds of people, senior Hamas officials and a guard of honour, who fired 21 shots into the air as a mark of respect, an AFP correspondent reported.

Martyrs

The bodies were then transferred to Shifa hospital in Gaza City from where they were to be taken to the city's main mosque for funeral prayers before being buried.

Several days ago, the Palestinian Authority had named the 91 "martyrs", who include eight members of a commando unit killed in March 1975 in an Israeli assault on the Savoy Hotel in Tel Aviv, where they had barricaded themselves inside with hostages.

Israeli public radio said the bodies included those of militants responsible for a string of suicide bombings in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the southern city of Beersheva.

Families of the dead admitted they had conflicting emotions over the return of the bodies of their loved ones.

"I have mixed feelings. I don't know what to say," said 70-year-old Mahira Misk, whose son Ezzedine was killed in clashes with Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Hebron in 2002.

"I wish they had released a prisoner so he could go back to his mother alive, instead of my son who is going to return to me as a dead body," she told AFP.

"But at least now I can visit his grave and read to him from the Qur'an."