Israel said yesterday that it would withhold the bodies of Palestinian militants killed in attacks against its citizens in its bid to pressure the Islamist movement Hamas to return the remains of soldiers and hand back missing Israeli civilians.
According to Hamas, it was holding two Israeli soldiers who had been declared dead by the army after they were lost in action in the 2014 Gaza war. The group also said it was holding two Israeli civilians who strayed into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The decision was made yesterday, after Israel's security cabinet, a forum of senior ministers, enacted a permanent policy for dealing with the bodies of militants.
"The security cabinet discussed ways to effect the return of fallen soldiers and of civilians held in the Gaza Strip ... and decided that (the bodies of militants) should be buried, rather than returned," the statement said.
In line with the new policy, the bodies could be exhumed and handed back for burial if Hamas would be open to strike deals. The policy is seen as a hardening of Israel's stance. According to the Israeli army, 102 bodies were returned for burial.
Israeli officials had earlier indicated they would continue with the past amnesties of jailed Palestinians in order to recover the two soldiers' remains and the civilians held by Hamas. However, Hamas had demanded preliminary release of prisoners before it discussed such a deal.
After the meeting of the security cabinet, the prime minister's office in a brief statement on the decision said: "The security cabinet discussed ways to effect the return of fallen soldiers and of civilians held in the Gaza Strip ... and decided that (the bodies of militants) should be buried, rather than returned."