More than 1,000 people gathered in Ramallah on Wednesday for the funerals of two Hamas fighters Israel killed in 1998, whose remains had just been returned.
Israel transferred the remains of Imad Awadallah, 48, and his 46-year-old brother Adel, to Palestinian officials at a checkpoint in the northern West Bank overnight, Palestinian activists said.
They also handed over the bodies of two others, including a suicide bomber who blew himself up at a Jerusalem restaurant in 2001 during the Second Intifada.
The Palestinian National Campaign to Return the Bodies of the Martyrs says Israel still holds the bodies of some 29 Palestinians in a special cemetery for “enemy combatants” in the Jordan Valley.
The exact circumstances of the deaths of the wanted Awadallah brothers, who were killed by Israeli troops in 1998 near the southern West Bank city of Hebron, have never been revealed.
In July 2011, the then Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak reneged on an agreement to hand over the bodies of some 84 militants killed since 1967, including the Awadallah brothers.
The Israeli defense ministry said such a transfer was inappropriate in light of the captivity at the time of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was snatched by Gaza militants in 2006.
Shalit was released later in 2011 in exchange for the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.
Since the late 1960s, Israel has withheld the bodies of hundreds of Palestinians. Their bodies are interred in numbered, rather than named, graves in four cemeteries created for that purpose, the biggest of which is located in the Jordan Valley.
(Ma’an and agencies – www.maannews.net)