The Israeli army agreed Thursday to hand over the body of a prominent Palestinian who was killed in a shootout with the IDF, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.
Basel al-A’araj, 31, was killed in his hideout in Ramallah after he opened fire at Israeli forces who came to arrest him, the army said.
A’araj was a noted activist in campaigns against Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and his killing sparked widespread mourning in Palestinian society as well as in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and among some in Israel. A’araj was dubbed by Palestinian media an “intellectual martyr” for his popular activism and because he was reportedly a noted historian of the Palestinian armed struggle.
A spokesperson for the Palestinian Red Crescent said the body would be returned Thursday afternoon at the Walaja junction on the outskirts of the West Bank town of Bethlehem, where A’araj lived.
The IDF declined to comment on whether it had agreed to return the body.
Israeli officials argue that the funerals of slain Palestinian attackers or suspected attackers often turn into mass rallies in support of Palestinian terrorism, and say they withhold the bodies until relatives agree to hold sparsely attended burials that don’t include calls for further attacks.
The IDF spokesperson’s unit also declined to say whether A’araj’s family had agreed to those conditions.
Since his death, A’araj has become a symbol of popular Palestinian resentment toward security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
He and two others had been arrested by PA security forces in April while camping out in a mountainous area near Ramallah. PA police said they were found with weapons, hand grenades and camping equipment, the Palestinian news site Ma’an reported.
Shortly after A’araj was taken into custody, PA President Mahmoud Abbas told the German daily Der Spiegel that the operation had been the fruit of security cooperation between Israel and the PA.
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He was released six moths later from PA prison after a Palestinian court ruled he must be set free. The ruling came as he was carrying out a hunger strike that grabbed headlines in Palestinian media.
Soon after his release from PA prison, he showed up ppeared on the Israeli wanted list.
Originally from Bethlehem, the 31-year-old A’araj was known for many years as an activist – against Israel, against the Palestinian Authority, against West Bank settlements and against the security barrier.
He was one of the best known personalities at protests in the Walaja area near his West Bank hometown, and did not fit the classic profile of a wanted terrorist.
He was not known to be affiliated with any official terror group. He studied pharmacy in Egypt before returning to the West Bank, where he began working through various youth groups against the Palestinian Authority and against negotiations with Israel.
All this time, he maintained a high public profile, on social media, traditional media and in protests against the PA.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist terror group, called A’araj “one of the most important Palestinian resistance men,” and a “revolutionary intellectual.”
Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report.