Israel transferred the remains of Hamas members Imad Awadallah, 48, and his 46-year-old brother Adel, to Palestinian officials at a checkpoint in the northern West Bank overnight Wednesday, Palestinian activists said.
Israel also handed over the bodies of two others, including a suicide bomber who blew himself up at the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem in 2001 during the Second Intifada, killing 15, including 7 children, and wounding 130.
More than 1,000 people gathered in the West Bank city of Ramallah Wednesday for the funerals of the two Hamas brothers killed in 1998 by Israeli forces. The exact circumstances of the deaths of the wanted Awadallah brothers near the southern West Bank city of Hebron have never been revealed.
The Palestinian National Campaign to Return the Bodies of the Martyrs said Israel still holds the bodies of some 29 Palestinians in a special cemetery for “enemy combatants” in the Jordan Valley.
Hamas official Wasfi Kabha, who served as minister of state in the short-lived Palestinian unity government in 2007, said the return of the bodies attests the terror group’s perseverance, and claimed that in light of the reconciliation deal, co-existence with Israel was not impossible.
“Hamas has not ceased to exist despite all the blows Israel has cast on it, and despite the persecution of the Palestinian security forces. Hamas is an idea and an ideology and it is impossible to eradicate it,” Kabha told the Ynet news site. “Israel and the PA security forces will do as they will, but Hamas is alive and well.”
Kabha said that although the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas has been strongly opposed by Israel, the “blood of the Palestinians is one,” and Israeli bullets do not differentiate between members of the two groups.
However, despite the strongly worded statement, Kabha also said, “If Israel gives the Palestinian nation its rights, there can be a sort of coexistence between sides.”
Kabha made his statements as participants hurled anti-Israel epithets and waved Hamas flags in the largest-scale gathering representing the terror group in the West Bank in some time.
In July 2011, then defense minister Ehud Barak reneged on an agreement to hand over the bodies of some 84 militants killed since 1967, including the Awadallah brothers.
The Defense Ministry said such a transfer was inappropriate in light of the captivity at the time of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped by Gaza militants in 2006.
Shalit was released later in 2011 in exchange for the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.