Israel on Sunday night began to transfer the bodies of 36 Palestinian terrorists killed in the past decade to the Palestinian Authority for burial by their families, the military said.
The initiative is the result of an appeal by the families of those killed to the High Court of Justice, in collaboration with Israeli organizations. The High Court ruled in favor of returning the bodies over the course of several weeks, and took DNA samples from family members to identify the remains and ensure the bodies were transferred to the right families.
The Israel Defense Forces began the operation by transferring the body of Majdi Khanafer, a resident of a village south of Jenin who was killed in 2002, in a gunfire exchange with the IDF, as he was on his way to perpetrate an attack.
An additional two bodies will be returned on Tuesday, Palestinians said. They belong to Fathi Jihad Ameera, killed in 2002, and Ata Ibrahim Samhan Samahna, killed in 2004, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.
The bodies were buried in Israeli cemeteries in designated plots for enemy casualties, and will be reburied according to Muslim tradition.
Last year, the remains of 91 Palestinians were released to the Palestinian Authority. The transfer of the bodies, in an operation titled “Crossing Jordan,” went ahead despite petitions by families of terror victims to the High Court.
However, while that move was meant to serve as a confidence-building gesture, a senior Israeli official told Maariv on Sunday that the current move is unrelated to peace talks and is wholly a legal order.
Among the 91 bodies discharged last year were the remains of a suicide bomber who killed seven Israelis at Cafe Hillel in Jerusalem; a terrorist who blew up the Jerusalem No. 2 bus, killing 18 people; and two suicide bombers who killed 16 Israelis in Beersheba.
The bodies of seven Fatah terrorists who took over the Savoy Hotel in Tel Aviv in 1975 and were killed in a Sayeret Matkal rescue operation were also returned last year.
Times of Israel staff and The Associated Press contributed to this report