Israel Confirms Deal to Hand over Palestinian Bodies Held Since 1967

Israel has approved the transfer of 84 bodies from a Jordan Valley "cemetery of enemy combatants" to the Palestinian Authority, officials said Monday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the request months earlier following "extensive staff work and coordination with all relevant authorities," Israel’s army said in a statement.

"Over the past few days, Civil Administration officials and their Palestinian counter parts have been discussing the execution of the transfer and its exact timing," the statement added.

Earlier Monday, Palestinian Authority Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein Ash-Sheikh told Ma’an that Israel had agreed to return the bodies of Palestinian fighters killed since 1967 to their families.

Until now Israel had refused to return the bodies to their families. The deceased have been kept in what Israel calls "enemy fighters’ cemeteries," known to Palestinians as "cemeteries of numbers."

But Ash-Sheikh told Ma’an radio on Monday that the two sides came to an agreement to release the bodies following "long and arduous negotiations" with Israeli authorities.

The ministry released a list of 84 Palestinians whose bodies would be returned. Their identities have been confirmed by Palestinian forensic experts.

Most of those listed were young men killed in their teens or early 20s, many of them during the Second Intifada, or uprising. Of those to be returned, Amir Ali Abdullah was the youngest when he was killed aged 15 in Tel Aviv in 2004. The bodies of four Palestinian women are among those to be returned.

Israel’s public radio said many of them carried out suicide attacks against Israeli civilians, such as a 2003 restaurant bombing in Haifa in which 21 people were killed, aside from the bomber.

Israeli media reports described the bodies as those of "terrorists."

President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior officials will attend a farewell ceremony for the deceased, and the bodies will be returned to their families, Ash-Sheikh explained.

The government will arrange to deliver the bodies to other countries where necessary, he added.

Ash-Sheikh said 102 bodies were yet to be identified, but forensic experts would be sent to cemeteries in Israel to perform DNA tests. The bodies would be delivered as soon as they were identified, he said.

Salem Khala, a Palestinian campaigner for the return of the militants’ remains, said a total of 334 Palestinian combatants were currently buried in Israeli graveyards.

(Ma’an News)

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