Israel halts handover of Palestinian bodies
By Andrew Roche | Reuters – Tue, Jul 5, 2011
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Monday halted the handover of 84 bodies of Palestinian militants to Palestinian authorities, hours after the military said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had approved the move.
"The defence minister ordered a halt to contact with the Palestinians on the the possibility of transferring the bodies," a written statement from Barak's office said.
The Israeli military had announced earlier on Monday that Netanyahu had several months ago approved the handover of the bodies, in what media said was a rare gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ahead of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.
Hussein al–Sheikh, head of the Palestinian civil affairs authority, had said on Monday he expected release of the bodies within days, after a year of negotiations with Israel on the transfer.
Barak's office said the minister's stop order was meant to ensure no harm would be done to negotiations on any future swap deal to secure the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held captive by Islamist group Hamas for five years.
Palestinian media published a list of militants from the West Bank and Gaza, killed between 1974 and 2006, whose bodies were expected to be handed over. Several were suicide bombers who carried out attacks in Israeli cities.
Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the Jewish state had said it would only return some bodies of Hamas militants as part of a swap deal to release Shalit, believed to be held in the Hamas–controlled Gaza Strip.
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Nidal al–Mughrabi in Gazxa; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Andrew Roche)
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