Reports of another Israeli confidence-building gesture to the Palestinians emerged Wednesday, alleging that Jerusalem will hand over the bodies of terrorists to the Palestinian Authority.
PA Civil Affairs Minister Hussein a-Sheikh confirmed the reports, according to Yedioth Ahronoth.
However, Israel firmly denied the claim. “The Prime Minister’s Office categorically rejects this report,” a PMO official told The Times of Israel. “At this stage Israel has absolutely no plans to release terrorists’ bodies.”
The purported gesture is reminiscent of the transfer of 91 bodies of terrorists to the PA in May 2012. Then, too, the move was linked to reviving direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Twenty-six convicted Palestinian terrorists were released by Israel overnight Tuesday. The prisoners were welcomed home to the West Bank and Gaza, as part of the US-brokered deal that enabled the resumption of peace talks.
All 11 of the West Bankers and the 15 Gazans freed by Israel were serving lengthy jail sentences for involvement in killing Israelis, and most of them had been jailed for murder, according to details released by the Israeli authorities on Tuesday.
After the release of the prisoners, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met for a second round of peace negotiations on Wednesday in Jerusalem, at a location and time that were deliberately kept quiet, in an apparent effort to keep media hype and presence to a minimum. At the Palestinians’ request, Army Radio reported, no photo opportunities were scheduled, either.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s aide Yitzhak Molcho sat down with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s advisers Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Shtayyeh for nearly five hours.
The talks are so far keeping to a schedule hammered out two weeks ago in Washington, DC, during a first round of talks that laid down a nine-month timetable to reach an agreement.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.