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Israeli Supreme Court further delays decision on withholding of Palestinian bodies

June 14, 2017 7:23 P.M. (Updated: June 14, 2017 9:51 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- The Israeli Supreme Court gave the public prosecution a week on Wednesday to justify its stance regarding the withholding of slain Palestinians’ bodies.

Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs lawyer Muhammad Mahmoud said that the Supreme Court gave the prosecutors until June 21 to provide a response, fining them 3,000 shekels ($854) for failing to get back to the court on time.

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.

The Supreme Court rejected the state’s order in March, ruling that the claim that the bodies could be used in such a deal was “unconvincing.”

The prosecution has repeatedly delayed presenting its justifications to the Supreme Court for Israel withholding the bodies of of Abd al-Hamid Abu Srour, Muhammad Tarayra, Muhammad al-Faqih, Rami Awartani, and Misbah Abu Sbeih -- which have been held for 14 months, 12 months, 11 months, 11 months, and eight months respectively.

Israel has also continued to hold the body of Fadi al-Qunbar, although he was not included in the case heard by the Supreme Court.

The court gave the prosecution 45 days to respond to the file in March, 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.

The prosecution was granted a one-month extension in May to prepare its case.

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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