JERUSALEM ( Associated Press) – Israel’s defense minister said Wednesday that Israel will not hand over the remains of a Palestinian prisoner for burial. The prisoner had died of lung cancer a day earlier.
Beni’s office said the body of Nasser Abu Hamid, one of the founders of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, would be exchanged for the remains of captured Israelis and soldiers held by Hamas’ armed group in the Gaza Strip.
Abu Hamid, 50, was a former member of the armed wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party. He had been serving multiple life sentences since 2002, when he was convicted of the deaths of seven Israelis during the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, in the early 2000s.
Palestinians in the West Bank marched and closed shops on Tuesday to protest his death.
Israel often keeps the bodies of Palestinians killed during attacks. The government says the policy deters further attacks and serves as a bargaining tool in prisoner exchanges, although rights groups say it is a form of collective punishment imposed on bereaved families.
Hamas holds the remains of two Israeli prisoners and two Israeli soldiers killed during the 2014 Gaza War.
The families of those four Israelis met Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday, who “expressed deep solidarity with them, especially with the suffering of the mothers,” according to Israel’s foreign ministry.
Palestinian officials have called for Abu Hamid’s release amid his deteriorating health in recent months and blamed Israel for his death on Tuesday.
Gantz denied allegations that Israel had any involvement in Abu Hamid’s death.
The death came at the end of one of the deadliest years of Israeli-Palestinian violence, and with prospects for a negotiated two-state solution fast fading away.