'PA, IDF mistook talks on transferring corpses as final'

Gov't officials say no decision was made on bodies of suicide-bombers after Barak nixes transfer, citing concern over Schalit talks.

Ehud Barak 311 (photo credit: Ariel Tarmoni/Defense Ministry)
Ehud Barak 311
(photo credit: Ariel Tarmoni/Defense Ministry)
A decision by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to consider transferring the bodies of Palestinians to the Palestinian Authority as a goodwill gesture to PA President Mahmoud Abbas was misinterpreted by both the PA and the IDF as final approval of the deal, senior government officials said Tuesday night.
The officials were explaining the confusion caused by Barak’s announcement Tuesday that Israel would not transfer the bodies of terrorists responsible for killing dozens of Israelis, or former residents of the Gaza Strip, to the PA.
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Barak’s announcement came a day after the PA and IDF confirmed that Netanyahu had approved the transfer of 84 bodies of Palestinians killed since 1967 to Abbas, ahead of the Muslim month of Ramadan.
But the officials said that contrary to what was claimed by the PA and confirmed by the IDF, no decision was made to transfer the bodies. Instead, the officials said, in January – after negotiations with the Palestinians broke down over Israel’s refusal to freeze all settlement construction – Netanyahu and Barak considered other gestures to make to Abbas, with the idea of returning bodies being one.
The decision to consider this as a gesture was made in part because one of the cemeteries where some of the bodies are buried in the Jordan Valley had flooded, and there was a concern that the bodies – some of them interred there for 40 years – would be washed away.
In February, Barak and Netanyahu agreed to weigh the idea of returning bodies, and directives were given to discuss it with the Palestinians. These discussions were conducted by the IDF, which asked the Palestinians for a list of names.
The Palestinians came back with a list of a few hundred names, 84 of which were in the cemetery in question.
According to the officials – either because of a mistake by the IDF officers involved in the discussion with the Palestinians, or a lack of understanding by the Palestinians – the PA understood that an agreement was reached.
“The governmental-level never made a decision,” one senior official said.
On Monday, PA Civil Affairs Minister Hussein a-Sheikh, in an interview with the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, said that Israel planned to transfer the bodies. This was subsequently confirmed by the IDF.
However, early Tuesday morning, Barak issued a statement saying that he had directed that discussion on the transfer of bodies be stopped in order to ensure that no bodies be transferred which could be used in negotiations for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit.
“Soon there won’t be anything left to transfer to them, and there is room to consider transferring the bodies, as opposed to leaving them in a temporary cemetery,” Barak said on the sidelines of an IDF brigade exercise in the Negev on Tuesday. “On the other hand, we need to check who we are transferring.”
In the afternoon, Barak announced his decision not to transfer the following bodies: Amad and Adal Awadalle, both senior Hamas military commanders; Fuad Alkusama, a senior Hamas commander from Hebron; Abdullah Alkusami, a senior Hamas terrorist; Ramaz Aslim, the suicide bomber who killed seven people in Café Hillel in Jerusalem in 2003; and Hanadi Jaradat, the female suicide bomber who killed 21 people in the Maxim restaurant in Haifa in 2003.
Also on the list were: Ihab Abu-Salim, the suicide bomber who killed nine soldiers at a hitchhiking post outside the Tzrifin Base near Rishon Letzion in 2003; Abdullah Abdullah, the suicide bomber who killed four Israelis outside the Stage nightclub in Tel Aviv in 2005; and Amar Ali Abdullah, the suicide bomber who killed three people in the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv in 2004.
Barak also decided not to transfer the bodies of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip – likely part of an effort to retain bargaining chips for future negotiations regarding Schalit.
The PA on Tuesday condemned the decision, saying that the Israeli government had gone back on its word.
Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.