Family of slain soldier held by Hamas urges Israel to keep bodies of Gaza gunmen

Simcha Goldin, whose son’s remains have been kept in Gaza since 2014, calls for government to uphold its resolution not to return fallen terrorists

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Leah and Simcha Goldin, parents of late Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin, attend a Knesset committee meeting in Jerusalem on February 1, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Leah and Simcha Goldin, parents of late Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin, attend a Knesset committee meeting in Jerusalem on February 1, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Goldin family, whose son’s remains have been held in Gaza by Hamas since the 2014 war, called on the government to not return the bodies of two Hamas members who opened fire on Israeli troops and were shot dead on Friday.

“Israel has to use the bodies as a bargaining chip with Hamas and hold onto them until a solution has been found and the soldiers are returned,” Simcha Goldin, the father of Lt. Hadar Goldin, said on Sunday.

The bodies of two IDF soldiers — Goldin and Oron Shaul — are currently being held by the Hamas terrorist organization, along with two live, apparently mentally ill Israeli civilians — Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed — who entered Gaza of the own volition in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

According to Palestinian media, following a shootout on Friday, Israeli soldiers retrieved the bodies of the two gunmen, and they are now being held by Israeli authorities.

The Israel Defense Forces would not officially comment on the claim.

However, on Sunday, the Goldin family contacted the government’s point person for the effort to retrieve the two fallen soldiers and two civilians, Yaron Blum, as well as Israel’s military coordinator to the Palestinians, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai.

The family demanded that the government uphold a resolution it passed last year that bars Israel from returning the bodies of terrorists to their families and instead has them buried in temporary plots.

Also on Sunday, the family of Mengistu launched a tent protest outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, calling on the government to bring back Abera from Hamas captivity.

On Friday, some 30,000 Palestinians took part in demonstrations along the Gaza border, during which rioters threw rocks and firebombs at Israeli troops on the other side of the fence, burned tires and scrap wood, sought to breach and damage the security fence, and in the one case opened fire at Israeli soldiers.

The IDF troops retaliated mostly with less-lethal riot dispersal means, namely tear gas and rubber bullets, but in some cases used live fire.

Palestinian protestors run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces during clashes following a demonstration commemorating Land Day, near the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on March 30, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The army said that its sharpshooters targeted only those taking explicit violent action against Israeli troops or trying to break through or damage the security fence. Video footage showed that in one case a rioter, whom the army included in its list of Hamas members, appeared to be shot while running away from the border. The army in response accused Hamas of editing and/or fabricating its videos.

An AK-47 rifle and hand grenade that were allegedly used by a Palestinian gunmen in an attack on IDF soldiers on March 30, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, 15 Palestinians were killed during these riots, including the two Hamas gunmen, armed with AK-47 assault rifles and hand grenades, who tried to breach the security fence.

On Saturday night, the Israeli military identified at least eight more of the people killed — 10 in total — as belonging to terrorist organizations, publishing their photographs, names and positions in the groups.

The IDF identified one of the two Hamas members who shot at Israeli soldiers on Friday evening as 23-year-old Mussa’b al-Saloul.

Fatalities from the March 30 violence on the Israel-Gaza border identified by Israel as members of terror groups. (Israel Defense Forces)

Earlier on Saturday, Hamas publicly acknowledged that five members of its military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, were among the fatalities. Hamas is an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel. It seized control of Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah in a violent coup in 2007.

Palestinians carry the body of Hamdan Abu Amsha, said killed a day earlier by Israeli fire during a mass border protest along the security fence, in Beit Hanoun in the northern of Gaza Strip on March 31, 2018. (AFP/ MAHMUD HAMS)

The army did not provide evidence for its identifications. Some could be independently verified with photographic evidence of the operatives wearing uniforms or receiving a military-style funeral from the terror group in question. Others could not be immediately substantiated. One appears to be partially incorrect, identifying an apparent member Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades terrorist group as a member of Hamas.

The Palestinians’ march to Gaza’s border with Israel on Friday was the largest such demonstration in recent memory, calling for Palestinians to be allowed to return to land that their ancestors fled from in the 1948 War of Independence. It was dubbed the “March of Return.”

The death toll from Friday’s protest was provided by the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, which also added that some 1,400 Palestinians were injured during the protests, more than half by live rounds. Israeli authorities have no way to independently confirm the casualty reports.

The army has remained on high alert even as the violence appeared to abate Friday evening, amid fears of persisting attacks, including infiltration attempts and rocket fire.

Protest organizers have said mass marches would continue until May 15, the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel. Palestinians mark that date as their “Nakba,” or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands left or were forced to leave during the 1948 War of Independence. The vast majority of Gaza’s two million people are their descendants.

Palestinians chant slogans as they attend a demonstration near the Gaza Strip border with Israel, in eastern Gaza City, Friday, March 30, 2018. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

At previous peace talks, the Palestinians have always demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the Old City, a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.

No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position is that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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