Israel has sent the remains of 91 Palestinian militants to the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of a deal to end a weeks-long prison hunger strike by hundreds of Palestinian inmates. The Israeli government says it also hopes to kick-start stalled peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.
As the BBC reports, all of the 91 died carrying out attacks against Israel since 1975. Some of them were suicide bombers. The bodies had been kept in numbered graves for enemy combatants until Thursday, when they were handed over to Palestinian officials at dawn. According to the Associated Press, 80 of them were taken to Ramallah in the West Bank, and the remaining 11 were transported to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
From the AP:
Near the crossing from Israel to Gaza, families held framed pictures of their dead sons as they awaited the bodies. Ahmad Kahlout’s 21-year-old son Yehiya was killed 17 years ago after he raided an Israeli settlement.
“I am happy they are sending back his body so I can go and pray on his grave before I die,” said Mr. Kahlout, 78. “Until my dying day I will be proud of him, but also sad for the years I wasn’t able to visit his grave.”
“We 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, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, quoted by the AFP. “Israel is ready for the immediate resumption of peace talks without any preconditions whatsoever.”
Peace talks haven’t been held since they broke down two years ago over the development of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority wants the construction of new settlements in the occupied territory—captured in the war of 1967—to stop before the resumption of peace negotiations.