Today, Israel transferred to Palestinian authorities the bodies of 91 Palestinian militants, saying it hoped the move would help restart peace efforts.
According to Palestinian Authority Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh, the remains of 80 Palestinians were handed over to Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and 11 bodies were slated for transfer to the Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas. An official burial ceremony will be held in Ramallah.
The militants had been buried, some of them for decades, in a desolate Israeli military cemetery for “enemy combatants” in the West Bank. They included several suicide bombers.
“It is our hope that this humanitarian gesture will serve both as a confidence-building measure and help get the peace process back on track,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Israel is ready for the immediate resumption of peace talks without any preconditions whatsoever,” he said.
Abbas has demanded a halt to Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a condition for returning to peace talks that collapsed over the settlement issue in 2010.
The Palestinian Authority and Hamas both planned official memorial ceremonies later in the day. The militants are regarded by Palestinians as heroes in a struggle for statehood. Dozens of Israelis were killed in attacks they carried out.
Israel’s opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich said that Netanyahu’s gesture was a right move, as it is building trust between the two sides. “Obviously this step is not enough, as right now the peace process is frozen, which is not in Israel’s interests,” Yachimovich said.