The remains of 79 Palestinian terrorists arrived in the West Bank city of Ramallah Thursday morning as the bodies of 12 more made their way to the Gaza Strip. The remains were transported in two truck convoys from the cemetery for fallen enemy individuals, in the Jordan Valley, to their destinations in the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinian official in charge of Thursday’s transfer, Salem Khileh, said Israeli officials handed over the bodies to Palestinian liaisons in the Jordan Valley.
The transfer of the bodies, in an operation titled “Crossing Jordan,” went ahead despite petitions by families of terror victims to the High Court of Justice late Wednesday evening.
According to media reports, a convoy of six trucks transferred the remains of 79 terrorists to Ramallah, while two additional trucks brought the remains of 12 terrorists to the Erez Crossing with Gaza.
Among the 91 bodies are 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; 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 on Thursday.
The return of the bodies of 130 terrorists is regarded as a confidence-building gesture aimed at reviving direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The remainder of the bodies will be transferred to the Palestinian Authority on an unspecified date.
“We hope that this humanitarian gesture will serve both as a confidence-building measure and help get the peace process back on track,” Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said.
“Israel is ready for the immediate resumption of peace talks without any preconditions whatsoever,” Regev added.
“I am happy they are sending back his body so I can go and pray on his grave before I die,” said 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.”
In Gaza, dozens of Islamic Jihad fighters and families holding framed pictures of their dead relatives welcomed the 12 coffins as they entered from Israel, draped with Palestinian national flags that were then presented to families. Women ululated and threw rice and sugar over the coffins. Hamas police officers fired 21 shots into the air in salute.
Thousands spilled into Gaza’s streets for the funeral procession, many stopping to mark a moment of silence. Islamic Jihad fighters armed with machine guns and hand grenades wore white robes and masks — clothes meant to symbolize the martyrdom of the suicide bombers.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership attended a noon ceremony at the Muqata’a compound in Ramallah honoring the reception of the terrorists’ remains. Following the service, the remains will be dispersed to various Palestinian cities for burial.
Abbas has given no sign that the gesture would persuade him to return to talks.
On Wednesday, he reiterated that the Palestinians would not return to negotiations unless Israel freezes all settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Palestinians see those areas, captured by Israel in 1967, as the core of a future state that would also include Gaza.
Israel rejects that demand. Israeli-Palestinian talks stalled more than three years ago and have failed to take off again despite US mediation, primarily because of the dispute over settlement construction.