RAMALLAH: Palestinian Minister of Detainees and Ex-detainees Issa Qaraqi’ said Saturday that Israeli authorities have been withholding for years the remains of some 300 Palestinians killed in combat in secret cemeteries known as the “Cemeteries of Numbers”.
During a visit to a Palestinian family in the West Bank village of Arourah, north of Ramallah, Qaraqi’ said Israel was in violation of basic international laws by denying Palestinian families the right to claim their dead. Israel has agreed to release the body of a Palestinian from Arourah killed by its forces in 1976 after keeping it for nearly 33 years for unexplained reasons.
Israeli media said the Israeli High Court ruled recently that the body of Mashhour Al-Arouri should be released. The ruling came after the Palestinian family petitioned the court for the custody of his body.
The appeal, lodged by Arouri’s relatives, is part of a national Palestinian campaign to bring home the bodies of Palestinian fighters killed by the Israeli military during operations.
Qaraqi’ said that Arouri’s body will be retrieved after DNA checks confirm his identity.
The court ruled that in case the body is found in a state not fit for reburial in Palestine, the family will be granted permission to visit the grave. Palestinians are skeptical about this as authorization to enter Israel is rarely granted to Palestinians.
Qaraqi’ said the “forced burial of the martyrs is a punishment to their families.” He also said that the practice of withholding the men’s remains for years sparked speculation Israel assassinated them after detention or harvested their organs.
Palestinian sources say Israeli is holding the remains of Palestinian and Arab fighters in four Cemeteries of Numbers.
Meanwhile, Israeli Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov opposed Saturday the inclusion of jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti in any prisoner swap for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
The minister said Barghouti does not qualify for release as he “has become a symbol of armed conflict and bloodshed.”
Hamas sources said that a deal is eluding the parties due to difference over the release of eight prisoners. They are Barghouti, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s Ahmed Sa’adat, top Hamas activists Ibrahim Hamed, Abbas Al-Sayed and Abdullah Al-Barghouti, female prisoners Amenah Muna, Ahlam Al-Tamimi and Qaherah Al-Sa’di.