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Israel delays decision on burying Palestinians in 'cemetery of numbers'

Aug. 21, 2017 10:32 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 22, 2017 1:54 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- The Israeli general prosecution and Israeli police have continued to delay submitting a decision to the Israeli Supreme court regarding a plan to bury the bodies of two Jerusalemite Palestinians, who carried out deadly attacks on Israelis, in a so-called cemeteries of numbers.

On Wednesday, Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman reportedly issued a decision, acquiescing to a request by security minister Gilad Erdan, not to release the bodies of the men to their families for burial in occupied East Jerusalem, and to instead use them as a bargaining chip with Hamas to secure the return of Israeli soldiers believed to be held by Hamas in Gaza.

The Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs meanwhile filed an urgent request to the Israeli court to prevent burying the bodies in the cemetery of numbers, at least until the next court hearing, scheduled for September 13.

This comes in response to a decision by the Israeli security cabinet in January not to release the bodies of Hamas-affiliated Palestinians that had carried out deadly attacks, so that they may be used in negotiations.

Monday’s session concerned the remains of Fadi al-Qunbar and Misbah Abu Sbeih, according to lawyer from the prisoners’ committee Muhammad Mahmoud.

However, a number of other bodies of Palestinian attackers allegedly affiliated to Hamas also remain held by Israel, which were presumably not included in the case because they originated from the occupied West Bank, over which the Israeli army -- not the police -- hold jurisdiction.

According to Mahmoud, there has been no official decision regarding the bodies, and should an official decision be made, there would be a number of additional procedures the families’ lawyers could take to appeal it.

The lawyer stressed that the previous statements reportedly made by Lieberman were not final decisions, and only responses to Erdan’s request to bury the two bodies as "enemy corpses" after he argued they met the criteria of the cabinet decision.

The January decision was challenged by the Israeli Supreme Court on the grounds that police did not have the authority to withhold bodies, and the court has given the prosecution multiple extensions to submit a final decision on whether they will be returned to their families, or buried in the cemeteries of numbers.

However, as the court reportedly ruled to reject both the request to return the bodies to their families and to bury them in the cemetery of numbers in June, 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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