Israel on Thursday handed over to the Palestinian government the remains of 91 militants,including suicide bombers,in an effort to induce Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to renew long-stalled peace talks.
All 91 were killed carrying out attacks on Israeli targets,Palestinian officials said. At least one of the attacks dated back to the 1970s.
The bodies had been buried in coffins in Israel and were dug up for the transfer. The Palestinian official in-charge of Thursdays transfer,Salem Khileh,said Israeli officials handed over the remains to Palestinian liaisons in the Jordan Valley.
Seventy-nine bodies were then transported to Ramallah,and 12 to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
Dozens of armed Islamic Jihad fighters and families holding framed pictures of their dead relatives welcomed the 12 coffins as they entered Gaza,draped with Palestinian national flags.
Women ululated and threw rice and sugar over the coffins. Hamas police officers fired 21 shots into the air in salute.
Two armed men,clad in black uniforms and bandanas,kissed the forehead of a suicide bombers mother as the vehicle carrying his body arrived. Her 21-year-old son,Ramzi Obaied of Islamic Jihad,killed 24 Israelis in a 1996 attack in Tel Aviv.
My son was a hero, said the black-clad woman,who identified herself as Um Hidar. The enemy feared him even after his death,for they kept his body.
Palestinian government ceremonies honoring the dead militants were to be held in the West Bank and Gaza later Thursday.
We hope that this humanitarian gesture will serve both as a confidence-building measure and help get the peace process back on track, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said.
Israel is ready for the immediate resumption of peace talks without any preconditions whatsoever, Regev added.
Abbas,however,has given no sign that the gesture would persuade him to return to talks.