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Israel hands over bodies of 7 slain Palestinians

Dec. 17, 2016 11:32 A.M. (Updated: Dec. 17, 2016 3:35 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli authorities Friday night handed over the bodies of seven Palestinians that were killed by Israeli forces after they were held in Israeli morgues for between one and more than six months.

Their return followed a petition filed by the relatives of five slain Palestinians who asked Israeli courts to order the Israeli government to release the bodies for burial. As has been customary with the release of bodies of slain Palestinians in the past, Israel agreed to hand over the bodies to the families only if they agree to the Israeli army’s preconditions regarding the funerals.

Meanwhile, three bodies that were discussed in petitions remain in Israeli custody for "further study," over the three Palestinians' alleged affiliation with the Hamas movement and that they carried out deadly attacks on Israeli civilians. The Israeli Supreme Court has given the Israeli government until Jan. 10 to decide on whether or not they will release the bodies for burial.

On Friday night, the Palestinian Civilian Liaisons office said they had received the bodies of Fares Khaddour, Muhammad al-Sararhin, and Khalid Bahar in the southern occupied district of Hebron, which were then taken to Al-Ahli hospital in Hebron city. Israeli authorities mistakenly delivered the body of Sarah Tarayra to Jenin in the northernmost district of Jenin, and the liaison coordinated to transport the body to Tarayra’s hometown in Bani Naim near Hebron.

The Palestinian National Committee for Retrieving Bodies of Martyrs Amin al-Bayid told Palestinian news agency Safa that Israeli authorities also returned the bodies of Sari Abu Ghurab from Jenin, Rahiq Birawi from Nablus, and Ansar Harshah from Tulkarem.

Ansar Harshah, a 25-year-old wife and mother of two, was shot and killed on June 2 at an Israeli army checkpoint after she allegedly attempted to stab a soldier. No Israelis were injured during the incident.

On July 1, Israeli forces shot dead 27-year-old Sarah Tarayra, who was pregnant, after she allegedly attempted to carry out a stabbing attack against border police officers near the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron’s Old City. No Israelis were injured in the incident. An investigation carried out by human rights organization B’Tselem determined the killing was not justified.

Fares Khaddour was killed on Sep. 16, after Israeli forces opened fired on the 18-year-old and his 18-year-old relative Raghdad Khaddour after the two allegedly attempted to carry out a car ramming attack, killing Fares instantly and critically injuring Raghad, who was hospitalized for weeks and later released. Three Israeli civilians were “treated for shock” in the incident but were not physically harmed.

The same day, 30-year-old Muhammad al-Sarrahin was killed after succumbing to gunshot wounds sustained earlier in the day when Israeli forces raided the village of Beit Ula in the district of Hebron and opened live fire on al-Sarrahin as soldiers reportedly struggled to detain him. No Israelis were reported to be injured.

Israeli forces killed 15-year-old Khalid Bahr on Oct. 20 in the the village of Beit Ummar in the Hebron district. Israeli authorities claimed a soldier shot the teenage boy dead in response to a rock-throwing incident, which reportedly left an Israeli soldier lightly injured. An internal Israeli army investigation later revealed that the lives of Israeli soldiers were not at risk when Khalid was killed.

Sari Muhammad Abu Ghurab, 24, was shot dead on Aug. 24 by Israeli forces near Nablus after he allegedly attempted to stab an Israeli soldier. An Israeli soldier reportedly was left with light injuries in the incident.

Rahiq Birawi, 23, was killed on Oct. 19. The incident, which was caught on video, was under Israeli army investigation. Birawi was shot more than 30 times by four Israeli border police officers after she allegedly approached an officer with a knife. No Israelis were injured.

Of the seven bodies that were released Friday night, only Abu Ghurab and al-Sarrahim appeared on a list released last week by the Palestinian liaison that announced which bodies would be returned.

It remained unclear whether or not the bodies of the remaining five mentioned on last week’s list -- Wael Abu Saleh, Rami Awartani, Hatim Shaludi, Mustafa Baradiya, or Muhammad al-Rajabi -- would also be released by Israeli authorities.

Since a wave of unrest began last October, 243 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis and 34 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians.

The violence has been largely characterized by alleged, attempted, and actual small-scale attacks committed by Palestinians against uniformed Israeli soldiers or police, mainly using knives or similar weapons.

Rights groups have disputed Israel's version of events in a number of cases, denouncing what they have termed as a "shoot-to-kill" policy against Palestinians who did not constitute a threat at the time of their death or who could have been subdued in a non-lethal manner -- amid a backdrop of impunity for Israeli forces who have committing the killings.

Israeli authorities dramatically escalated a policy of withholding Palestinian bodies killed by Israeli forces amid the unrest, having repeatedly claimed that funerals of Palestinians had provided grounds for “incitement” against the Israeli state.

However, following an uproar of protest among Palestinians over the policy, Israeli authorities began scaling down the practice, although a number of bodies still remain withheld.

When Israeli authorities have decided to return slain bodies and allow funerals in the occupied Palestinian territory, 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.

Palestinian families have also been forced to pay large financial deposits to the Israeli government as collateral for potential “incitement” during the funerals and to ensure that families abide by Israeli-imposed conditions.

A joint statement released by prisoners rights group 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."

The statement said it appeared "many" of the Palestinians whose bodies Israel was holding had been "extrajudicially executed by Israeli forces during alleged attacks against Israelis, despite posing no danger."
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