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Israel once again delays decision on releasing bodies of slain Palestinians

May 16, 2017 5:11 P.M. (Updated: May 17, 2017 10:19 A.M.)
Children at a rally raise photos of slain Palestinians whose bodies remain held by Israel (File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Israeli Supreme Court has once again granted Israel’s general prosecution more time to provide justification for continuing to detain the bodies of five Hamas-affiliated Palestinians who died while carrying out attacks on Israelis.

Palestinian watchdog the Wadi Hilweh Information Center released a statement Tuesday, quoting lawyer from the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs Muhammad Mahmoud as saying that the court agreed to the prosecution’s request to allow more time to determine their stance on returning the bodies of Abd al-Hamid Abu Srour, Muhammad al-Faqih, Muhammad Tarayra, Rami Awartani, and Misbah Abu Sbeih -- which have been held for 13 months, 10 months, nine months, nine months, and seven months, respectively.

The court gave the prosecution until June 14th to present their detailed response, the statement said, adding that according to Mahmoud, the prosecution demanded to postpone their response under the claim that the file on the bodies was presented to a committee “of different levels,” and therefore required more time “to discuss and respond to the court.”

In March, the court had held a session to discuss an appeal presented by the families of the five slain Palestinians. At the time, the court decided to give the prosecution 45 days to respond to the file, while simultaneously rejecting a petition by the prosecution that requested that the Palestinians be buried in Israel's "cemetery of numbers," a series of mass graves comprised of marked and unmarked plots of mostly Palestinians killed by Israeli forces over the past 60 years.

In January, Israel’s security cabinet said that the bodies of Palestinians allegedly affiliated to the Hamas movement would not be returned to their families, as Israel considers the bodies to be a bargaining chip that could be used in a future exchange deal with Hamas, the de facto ruling party of the besieged Gaza Strip, where the bodies of two Israeli soldiers are believed to be held.

According to Mahmoud, who was present at the court hearing in March, the Supreme Court rejected the state’s order because the claim that the bodies could be used in such a deal was “unconvincing.”

As the court ruled to reject both the request to return the bodies to their families for burial and to bury them in the cemetery of numbers, it has remained unclear what outcome the court envisaged for the case.

A joint statement released by Addameer and Israeli minority rights group Adalah in March 2016 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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