Israel will hold onto the body of Nasser Abu Hamid, one of the founders of Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, as part of efforts to negotiate a deal with Hamas, Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced on Wednesday morning.
The deal Gantz is hoping to achieve would return captured Israelis Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who have been held in Gaza since 2014 and 2015 respectively. It would also see the return of the bodies of Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul who were killed during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
Gantz said that his decision was simply following protocol already approved by the security cabinet, although Israel has swung wildly back and forth on returning the bodies of Palestinian terrorists in the past.
The move was unusual because it appears that Jerusalem is intentionally linking the return of a Fatah militant to negotiations with Hamas, whereas in the past, Israel has preferred to delink such issues so as not to empower Gaza’s current rulers.
It was also an unusual move since Abu Hamid died while in Israeli custody serving a life sentence, whereas most other cases of holding back terrorists’ bodies occurred after they were killed in the field.
The High Court of Justice has reached various contradictory rulings over the issue of holding onto terrorists’ bodies, all of which have given different Israeli governments a broad level of discretion over the issue.
At times, some defense officials have preferred to return bodies to reduce tensions with terror groups, but the more recent trend has been to hold onto bodies to pressure Hamas into a bodies or prisoners exchange.
Abu Hamid, who murdered seven Israelis and participated in the infamous Ramallah lynch in 2000, died from cancer on Tuesday morning in an Israeli prison hospital.
The Israel Prison Service confirmed that Abu Hamid died while hospitalized at Yitzhak Shamir Medical Center. He was imprisoned multiple times on terrorism charges and was sentenced to a life sentence for the deadly terrorist attacks he conducted and organized.
As well as taking part in the infamous Ramallah lynch in 2000, Abu Hamid murdered three Israelis in shooting attacks that same year. He also planned and directed three terrorist attacks in 2002 and was imprisoned on a life sentence later that year.
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A number of bereaved families appealed to Gantz through the right-wing Honenu legal group that he not release Abu Hamid’s body for burial, Channel 12 reported on Tuesday evening.
The Fatah movement announced a comprehensive strike in the Ramallah governorate on Tuesday after Abu Hamid’s death. Days of mourning and strikes were announced in additional Palestinian cities, towns and universities on Tuesday. Palestinian prisoners announced that they would protest in light of the death as well.
Palestinian factions in Jerusalem called for a march at the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem on Tuesday evening in response to Abu Hamid’s death.
A day of mourning was announced in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, with a protest march planned for after the Maghreb prayer on Tuesday afternoon in Gaza City.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh warned that Abu Hamid’s death would “not go unpunished.”
Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.