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Israeli army suppresses Bethlehem protest calling for return of Palestinian bodies

Jan. 15, 2017 8:21 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 16, 2017 1:18 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces suppressed on Sunday afternoon a march in Bethlehem demanding that Israeli authorities return the bodies of slain Palestinians still held in their custody.

Demonstrators held Palestinian flags and mock coffins as they chanted slogans against Israeli policies targeting Palestinians.

Story continues below.

As they arrived at the northern entrance of Bethlehem near the Israeli separation wall, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas, sound bombs and rubber-coated steel bullets at the protesters.

An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an that they were looking into the reports.

The march, organized by national organizations in Bethlehem in cooperation with the slain Palestinians’ families committee of Hebron, was launched following a number of speeches by Palestinian activists and relatives of slain Palestinians.

Israeli authorities dramatically escalated a policy of withholding Palestinian bodies killed by Israeli forces following the emergence of a wave of unrest across the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel in October 2015, having repeatedly claimed that funerals of Palestinians had provided grounds for “incitement” against the Israeli state.

Israeli authorities are still withholding the bodies of eight Palestinians who were killed since October 2015.

However, following an uproar among Palestinians over the policy, Israeli authorities began scaling down the practice, although the bodies of a large number of Palestinians killed over the years still remain withheld, as an estimated 262 Palestinian bodies were believed to be held by Israel as of mid-2015, prior to the unrest.

Earlier this month, the Israeli security cabinet decided that the bodies of slain Palestinians affiliated with the Hamas movement who were killed while carrying out attacks against Israelis would not be returned to their families.

When Israeli authorities have decided to return slain bodies and allow funerals in the occupied Palestinian territory in the past year, the ceremonies have been typically restricted by a long list of conditions imposed by Israeli authorities, including limiting the number of attendees and the deployment of Israeli soldiers throughout the event.

A joint statement released by Addameer and Israeli minority rights group Adalah in March condemned Israel’s practice of withholding bodies as "a severe violation of international humanitarian law as well as international human rights law, including violations of the right to dignity, freedom of religion, and the right to practice culture."

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