Israeli Defense Minister Halts Talks to Transfer Palestinian Bodies

Posted July 4th, 2011 at 7:30 pm (UTC-5)
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Israel's defense minister has halted talks with Palestinian officials concerning the transfer of the bodies of 84 Palestinian terrorists buried in Israel.

Ehud Barak stopped the negotiations at the last minute Monday, saying the release of the Palestinian bodies could undermine efforts to free a captive Israeli soldier. That soldier, Gilad Shalit, was abducted by Hamas militants in June 2006 near the border with Gaza.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper says Barak took the action aftern learning that two of the bodies to be transferred are the corpses of Hamas military wing leaders being held as bargaining chips for a future deal on Shalit.

The Israeli military had confirmed the transfer plan, saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a request by the Palestinian Authority several months ago.

Palestinian media published a list of militants from the West Bank and Gaza killed between 1974 and 2006 that they expected to be handed over, including several suicide bombers who carried out attacks in Israeli cities.

The head of the Palestinian civil affairs authority said his government would coordinate the corpses' eventual transfer to cemeteries within Palestinian-controlled territories and in Arab countries as needed. Hussein al-Sheikh said Israel is in possession of 102 bodies. If it materializes, the transfer would be the first stage of a larger deal.

Israeli media said the transfer was a rare gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ahead of the Muslim holiday period of Ramadan, which will begin in August. An Israeli government spokesman declined to comment.