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Israel returns body of Palestinian teenager 200 days after his death

Sept. 6, 2016 2:09 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 7, 2016 9:49 A.M.)
Rula Abu Khalaf, mother of 19-year-old Muhammad Abu Khalaf at her son's funeral
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- After holding his body in a morgue for 200 days, Israeli authorities returned 19-year-old Muhammad Abu Khalaf to his family in occupied East Jerusalem, who laid him to rest just after midnight Tuesday morning.

Abu Khalaf, a resident of the village of Kafr Aqab in central Jerusalem, was shot dead on Feb.19 after he stabbed and wounded two Israeli border police officers outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate.

“We have awaited the body of my son for 200 days, and they were very difficult days,” Abu Khalaf’s bereaved mother Rula told Ma’an.

“Today, the pain from the unhealed wound was renewed when we received his body and buried it.”

She expressed her “thankfulness to God” that her son was finally buried “in the soil of the holy Jerusalem.”

Israeli authorities delivered Abu Khalaf’s body to his family after midnight at the al-Mujahidin cemetery, located just outside the walls of the Old City.

Abu Khalaf’s body was returned and buried in accordance with conditions imposed by Israeli authorities, which has allowed the release of bodies of slain Palestinians from East Jerusalem only on the conditions that their families bury them in cemeteries chosen by the police in the presence of a maximum of 25 family members.

Like other families of slain Jerusalemites accused of carrying out attacks against Israelis, the Abu Khalaf family was required to pay a 20,000 shekel ($5,292) “insurance fee” to make sure they abide by the rules.

Contrary to other cases of bodies being returned to their families completely frozen, Abu Khalaf’s mother expressed some relief, saying her son’s body looked and felt more natural.

Immediately after the funeral, the teenager’s mother rushed to the outer wall of the Damascus Gate where her son was killed, and recited verses from the Quran and other prayers for his deceased soul.

At the time of Abu Khalaf’s death, an Al Jazeera television crew happened to be filming outside the Damascus Gate, and managed to film the moments immediately after the teen carried out the stabbing attack.

Video of the scene shows Israeli forces firing dozens of bullets at the teenager, even after he had fallen to the ground, immobilized.

Members of the Al Jazeera crew told Ma'an at the time that six Israeli officers on site surrounded the Palestinian teen after he fell and "fired almost 50 bullets.”

Story continues below.

The release of Abu Khalaf’s body left the number of slain Palestinians accused of committing attacks against Israelis who are still being held in Israeli morgues at 11, including three women and one resident of occupied East Jerusalem, among them Abd al-Muhsen Hassuneh, 21.

Within the last week, the bodies of two other slain East Jerusalem residents were returned to their families and buried in al-Mujahidin cemetery under strict Israeli police presence.

After holding his body in a morgue for more than ten months, Israeli forces returned the body of Thaer Abu Ghazaleh, 19, one week after what would have been his 20th birthday.

Abu Ghazaleh was shot and killed by Israeli forces in early October after he carried out a stabbing attack in Tel Aviv which left four Israelis injured.

After 325 days in an Israeli morgue, the body of 22-year-old Bahaa Elayyan was returned on Thursday to his family, which has been leading the movement advocating for Israel to release slain Palestinians' bodies.

Elayyan, a resident of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabal al-Mukabbir, was killed alongside another Palestinian after they attacked an Israeli bus on Oct. 13, killing three Israelis with knives and a gun.

Earlier last month, Issa Qaraqe, the head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs, made a statement saying that Israeli authorities had approved the “gradual release” of slain Palestinian bodies.

It was then that Israeli authorities added the preconditions for the release of the bodies, stipulating that the funerals be held at 1 a.m. and that only the families of the slain Palestinians would be permitted to attend.

The families of the slain Jerusalemites have appealed to 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, 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.

The families since had to return to court to negotiate the release of their slain family members.

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 -- such as al-Mujahidin cemetery -- adding to the long list of preconditions.

Israeli authorities have dramatically escalated their policy of withholding slain Palestinian bodies since a wave of unrest swept across the Palestinian territory and Israel in October, during which time 221 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis and 32 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians.

The United Nations released a report in May stating that Israeli authorities have prohibited autopsies from being conducted on Palestinian corpses, and that the bodies were kept in poor and inhumane conditions, “stacked on top of each other.”

“The bodies returned to the families are often disfigured, sometimes beyond recognition, denying the families the right to accord, with dignity, final religious rites,” the report read.

Human rights organizations have also widely condemned the policy, 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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