Diplomatic push and IDF threats said behind return of body seized by Palestinians

Reports say UN and US officials interceded with Islamic Jihad and PA, while Israeli military had prepared a wide-scale operation to bring home remains of teen Tiran Fero

Family and friends mourn during the funeral procession of Tiran Fero, in Daliyat al-Karmel, northern Israel, November 24, 2022. (Shir Torem/Flash90)
Family and friends mourn during the funeral procession of Tiran Fero, in Daliyat al-Karmel, northern Israel, November 24, 2022. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

A large-scale international diplomatic effort took place to secure the release of the body of Tiran Fero, a Druze teenager whose remains were snatched by terrorists from a hospital in the West Bank this week, according to a report Thursday.

Citing Israeli and Western sources, Walla news reported that UN Middle East Envoy Tor Wennesland even made an appeal to the leaders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror group in Damascus.

United States Security Coordinator Gen. Michael Penzel was also involved in coordinating with the Palestinian Authority, the report said, noting that PA security services were ordered to try and facilitate the return of the body.

Fero was critically injured in a car crash in Jenin and taken to a hospital in the Palestinian city on Tuesday, where he died and his body was snatched by unidentified gunmen.

An Israeli official told the news site that the head of the armed group that kidnapped Fero’s body was related to the currently jailed leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Jenin, Zakaria Zubeidi, but he was affiliated with PIJ.

The official noted that another family member of the leader of the group had recently been killed in a clash with IDF forces, and said his body was being held by Israel.

Tiran Fero. (Courtesy)

Security officials said that the suspects had been demanding the release of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel or the bodies of deceased Palestinian terrorists being held by Israel in exchange for Fero, who was a senior in high school.

In the background of the diplomacy was a warning from Israel and the IDF that if the body was not returned, Israel would launch a large-scale operation in the West Bank, the report said.

“Everyone understood that it could have been a bloodbath,” a Western diplomat told the news site.

Meanwhile, Wennesland reportedly mulled an immediate visit to Jenin, but PA intelligence chief Majed Faraj told him it was unnecessary, the diplomat said.

Wennesland then made contact with PIJ leader in Damascus Ziad Nakhaleh to demand the body be released, but the latter denied that his group was involved in the kidnapping.

Still, according to the report citing officials, Nakhaleh then called the armed cell himself and warned them to release the body immediately.

“Nakhaleh understood that this incident could lead to a broad conflict that did not suit the PIJ at the current time,” the Western diplomat said, according to the report.

The body was handed over to PA intelligence officials, who later brought it to the Salem checkpoint, where it was handed over to Fero’s family. Hours later, he was laid to rest.

The family of Tiran Fero, an Israeli teenager whose body was snatched from a West Bank hospital by Palestinian gunmen, meets with security officials as his body is returned to Israel, November 23, 2022. (COGAT spokesperson’s office)

Thousands of mourners walked in Fero’s funeral procession, in his majority-Druze hometown of Daliyat al-Karmel in northern Israel, on what would have been his 18th birthday.

Though his family claimed that Palestinian gunmen detached him from life support when they grabbed him from the hospital, the military and a senior defense source insisted he was already dead when he was taken.

His body was held for around 30 hours.

Israel did not give anything in exchange for the body, a senior defense source told reporters Thursday morning, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“We held no negotiations with those who were holding the body. We gave nothing in return,” the source said. “We clarified that this body was going back to the family. The Palestinian Authority put pressure to end the saga quickly because it was embarrassed, and in Jenin, the kidnappers lost support after the public understood it would be paying a heavy financial price.”

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report. 

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