Israel has recovered the bodies of five Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists that were buried when the army destroyed a Gazan attack tunnel that crossed into Israeli territory last week, the IDF announced on Sunday.
“During the past few days, the Southern Command and Gaza Division have been operating to finalize the uncovering and destruction of the terror tunnel that was targeted on October 30, 2017, in Israeli territory,” the army said in a statement.
“During the ongoing work in the area the bodies of five terrorists were uncovered.”
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad responded to the announcement, saying that Israel “will not be able to bargain over our fighters.”
“Our battle is open and shall not end. The freedom tunnel is not the only tunnel owned by the Islamic Jihad. It has many tunnels and many options,” warned Ahmad al-Mudalal, a senior member of the group.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told the al-Shehab news outlet that the Israeli decision would not stop “the resistance from developing its capabilities.”
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, a member of the security cabinet, said that Israel shouldn’t released the terrorists’ bodies, until the two Israeli civilians — Hisham al-Sayed and Abera Mengistu — and remains of two slain IDF soldiers — Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin — that are believed to be held by Hamas in Gaza are returned to Israel.
“Until we get back our dear ones, they won’t get the body of even one terrorist,” Erdan said in a statement.
The Goldin family called on Israel not to return the bodies and threatened to take the case to the Supreme Court in order to prevent it.
“Instead of putting a heavy price on Hamas and steamrolling it, they tell us in meetings that the next missiles on Sderot, Ashdod and Ashkelon will be because of the pressure we want put in place. Enough excuses — it’s time for action,” said Goldin’s mother, Lea.
“Israel’s submission to every humanitarian request and the continuation of running ‘day camps’ in prison [for Palestinian inmates] are absurd and represent a white flag of defeat,” said his father, Simcha.
Likud MK Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet security service, said Israel should use the bodies as a “bargaining chip.”
The five recovered by Israel were apparently diggers who had been working inside the tunnel at the time of the strike. They were found inside Israeli territory, on the Israeli side of the security fence, the army said.
On Monday, the IDF exploded the attack tunnel, which began in the Gazan city of Khan Younis, went under the border and into Israeli territory, near Kibbutz Kissufim.
The tunnel did not yet have an opening, and the IDF said it was monitored from the time it crossed into Israeli territory so it did not pose a threat to civilians.
According to Israeli assessment, 14 terrorists — mostly from Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but some from Hamas — were killed in the blast and its aftermath.
Hamas also reportedly asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to coordinate with Israel to allow its men to enter the Gaza-Israel buffer security zone and search for the missing bodies inside the tunnel.
On Thursday, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, head of the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories agency, refused the ICRC request, unless Hamas would be willing to work toward the release of the two live Israeli civilians — Hisham al-Sayed and Abera Mengistu — and two slain IDF soldiers that the terror group is believed to be holding.
Hamas on Friday rejected the conditions set by Israel.
Top Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar said the group “will not provide any information in exchange for locating those missing,” according to reports in Hebrew-language media. “As far as we are concerned, they are buried in their own country.”
Last week, the left-wing Adalah human rights organization submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice, asking it to require the government to allow Hamas search and rescue teams to look for the bodies in the buffer zone. The group withdrew the request after the army announced it found the bodies.
The Justice Ministry on Friday said in a legal brief that it wasn’t the “duty of the government to allow the terrorist organizations operating in Gaza to collect the bodies of its terrorists.”
Times of Israel staff and Dov Lieber contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story was corrected to accurately reflect Adalah’s petition to the High Court of Justice.