Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians on Sunday confirmed that the bodies of two Hamas gunmen who opened fire on IDF soldiers and were shot dead on Friday were being held by Israel, along with the remains of 24 other slain operatives.
Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, wrote on his Arabic-language Facebook page that the remains of the 26 Palestinians would not be released until Hamas returned the two Israeli civilians and the remains of two fallen IDF soldiers that it is currently holding in Gaza.
“Israel will not be silent and the residents of Gaza will not know peace until the Israelis are returned and our soldiers are brought to burial in Israel,” Mordechai wrote in Arabic. “There is a shared value for Judaism and Islam of burying the dead.”
The bodies of two IDF soldiers — Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul — are being held by Hamas, along with two live, apparently mentally ill Israeli civilians — Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who entered Gaza of their own volition in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
On Friday, Mussa’b Saloul and Muhammad Rubaiyah, armed with AK-47 assault rifles and hand grenades, opened fire at Israeli soldiers and tried to break through the security fence before they were shot dead by troops. Israeli aircraft also later targeted Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip.
Mordechai identified them as Mussa’b Saloul and Muhammad Rubaiyah.
Palestinian media reported that IDF soldiers retrieved their bodies and that they were being held by Israeli authorities. The army would not confirm that claim until Sunday with Mordechai’s Facebook post.
According to the general, the two slain gunmen “joined the 24 other bodies being held by Israeli since Operation Protective Edge” — Israel’s name for the 2014 Gaza war — “and the demolition of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad tunnel that was blown up in our territory in October 2017.”
Mordechai laid the blame squarely at Hamas’s feet, saying the terrorist group “doesn’t care about the living or the dead and is preventing their Muslim burial.”
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 that one case opened fire at Israeli soldiers.
IDF troops retaliated mostly with less-lethal riot dispersal means, namely tear gas and rubber bullets, but in some cases used live fire.
According to the army, in keeping with its rules of engagement, the Palestinians who were shot were either attacking IDF soldiers with stones and Molotov cocktails, were actively trying to damage the security fence, or were attempting to place improvised explosive devices along the security fence, which could later be used in attacks against Israeli patrols.
On Saturday night, the Israeli military identified 10 Palestinians killed on Friday as belonging to terrorist organizations, publishing their photographs, names and positions in the groups. Though the IDF identified Saloul as a Hamas member, Rubaiyah was not included in the army’s list.
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.
Mordechai’s post came shortly after the family of Hadar Goldin, one of the soldiers whose remains are held by Hamas, called on the government to not return the bodies of the two gunmen.
“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, his father, said.
The Goldin family contacted Mordechai as well as the government’s point person for the effort to retrieve the two fallen soldiers and two civilians, Yaron Blum.
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, one of the two Israeli civilians captive in Gaza, launched a tent protest outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, calling on the government to bring back Abera from Hamas captivity.