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After five months, Israel returns body of slain Palestinian for burial

Aug. 18, 2016 10:17 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 19, 2016 9:22 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces returned the body of a Palestinian for burial on Wednesday night after withholding it from the slain man’s family for five months.

Israeli authorities returned the body of Muhammad Jamal al-Kalouti, 21, after midnight at the al-Mujahidin cemetery near Herod’s Gate in occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City.

Al-Kalouti was shot dead by Israeli police in March alongside Abd al-Malak Saleh Abu Kharoub, 19, outside of the Old City after the two opened fire in the area.

Israeli forces were deployed at Herod’s Gate on Wednesday night, as well as in the neighboring Salah al-Din Street and around the cemetery, as they prevented people from approaching to conform to Israeli limitations on the number of mourners allowed to attend the funeral.

Lawyer Muhammad Mahmoud said that Israeli intelligence imposed a number of preconditions on al-Kalouti’s family before returning his body, limiting the number of funeral attendees to no more than 30 family members, and imposing a bail of 20,000 shekels ($5,218).

The funeral came after Israeli authorities backtracked Monday evening on a decision made earlier in the day to return the body of Bahaa Elayyan, whose body has been held by Israel for nearly 10 months.

The reversal came after the Elayyan family refused last-minute changes by Israeli authorities to the preconditions they had already agreed to, including a reduction in the number of funeral participants and a new location for the burial.

In June, Israeli police decided that slain Palestinians from East Jerusalem accused of "terrorism" would no longer have funerals in their neighborhoods or villages, but would instead be buried in cemeteries chosen by the police.

Israel dramatically increased its policy of withholding bodies since the beginning of a wave of unrest across the occupied Palestinian territory since October, in which 218 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis.

The families of the slain Palestinians have appealed the Israeli Supreme Court for months, with the court ruling in May that all of the bodies of Palestinians held by Israel be released to their families before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in June.

However, after releasing the body of Alaa Abu Jamal, Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan ordered that Israeli police suspend the return of the bodies just a few weeks after the ruling, claiming that the funeral encouraged "incitement" against the state of Israel.

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs said that Israeli authorities approved the release of slain Palestinian's bodies, in a reversal of the Erdan order which slain Palestinians’ families hope will remain permanent.

The bodies of at least six Palestinians from East Jerusalem are still being held by Israel, while Mahmoud estimated that the bodies of some 14 Palestinians who have been killed since October are being withheld in total.

Human rights organizations have widely condemned the policy of withholding bodies, with prisoners’ rights group Addameer calling it a form of “collective punishment” against Palestinians who had not been accused of any wrongdoing, also noting that it “adds to the severe grief and trauma of families of the deceased.”
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