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Coroner: Israel's conditional release of bodies prevents autopsies

Dec. 31, 2015 1:14 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 31, 2015 5:52 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- A Palestinian coroner responsible for performing autopsies on the bodies of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces condemned on Thursday Israel’s conditional handover of bodies.

Head of Al-Quds University's Institute for Forensic Medicine, Sabir al-Aloul, told Ma’an that the demand by Israeli authorities that Palestinian bodies be buried immediately after their return prevents autopsies from being carried out.

“Israel freezes the bodies of the Palestinian martyrs in mortuaries held at -35 degrees which prevents autopsy for 24 to 48 hours,” al-Aloul said.

The burial of the body of 38-year-old Baseem Salah -- delivered on Tuesday -- was reportedly delayed after coroners were unable to immediately autopsy his body, still frozen after the handover.

The Palestinian Ministry of Justice adopted a resolution to perform autopsies on the bodies of all Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in effort to document “Israeli crimes,” al-Aloul added.

Israeli authorities began holding the bodies of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks on Israeli military or civilians in October. The practice has not been used with such frequency since the Second Intifada, according to rights group Hamoked.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Nov. 5 that bodies would begin to be returned on a “case-by-case basis, where the main consideration is if there`ll be a massive funeral.”

Several bodies have been handed over since.

A number of Palestinian families on Wednesday refused in a letter the conditions proposed by Israel for the return of their relatives. One of several complaints issued by the signatories was that families should be allotted time to request an official autopsy on their dead.

Autopsy reports are used in official paperwork necessary to file cases against Israeli authorities at the International Criminal Court.

“The freezing prevents autopsy results that document the crime, which means a loss of important information for bringing Israel in front of the International Criminal Court,” al-Aloul told Ma’an.

A spokesperson for Israel's Ministry of Defense was not immediately available for comment regarding the return of frozen bodies.

Al-Aloul said that Israeli conditions also prevented autopsies that would resolve accusations that Israel has been “stealing” organs from the bodies of Palestinians withheld by the state.

Palestinian delegate to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, on Nov. 3 wrote a letter to the president of the UN Security council that included an accusation of organ harvesting by Israel.

The delegate referred to reports that the body of Muhannad Okbi -- killed after reportedly killing an Israeli soldier in a Beersheba bus station -- was returned to his family without corneas.

The allegations have yet to be confirmed.

According to autopsies al-Aloul had performed on Palestinians killed since Oct. 1 so far, the coroner said that those killed were “shot in the head and the chest many times from a very close distance.”

Some bodies also showed the use of expanding bullets -- also known as “dum dum” bullets -- the use of which is illegal under international law.

Israel has repeatedly denied claims that its forces use such bullets, though Palestinian medical examiners have on occasion documented their use.

The coroner also reported that a number of the bodies appeared to be returned in poor condition.

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