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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israel Must Hand Over Jenin Dead

JERUSALEM -- Israel's army must hand over to the Palestinians bodies of Palestinians killed in the recent fierce fighting in the northern West Bank refugee camp, an Israeli court ruled Sunday, stopping Israeli plans to bury bodies in unmarked graves.

Under the Israeli Supreme Court decision, Red Cross representatives would accompany Israeli military teams searching for bodies in the debris of the Jenin refugee camp. With the agreement of the local army commander, representatives of the Palestinian Red Crescent also could participate, the decision said.

Mohammed Barakeh, an Arab Israeli lawmaker who petitioned the court, described the decision as "positive." The Red Cross and Red Crescent have agreed to participate, he said.

Colonel Dan Reisner, an international law adviser in the Israeli army's advocate general's office, indicated Palestinians of the Red Crescent may not be able to participate. Army search teams, he said, were moving in armored personnel carriers and Reisner said he did not expect local commanders would allow Palestinians into them.

The army announced last week it would bury the bodies of militants in unmarked graves in a northern cemetery, prompting a Palestinian outcry and accusations Israel was trying to cover up the nature and scale of deaths inside the camp. The petition filed by Arab Israeli lawmakers blocked the movement of any bodies.

"It is the position of the defendant [army] that the burial will be carried out quickly by Palestinian authorities," the court decision said, adding that if the Palestinians stalled in burying bodies, the army could "bring the bodies to immediate burial."

The death toll in the camp has not been verifiable, with access to the camp extremely limited. Israel's army has estimated the death toll at 100 Palestinians; the Palestinians claim as many as 500 people died.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday that the number of deaths in Jenin stands at "tens of killed and not hundreds -- most of them gunmen who shot at our forces."

The once-teeming camp was a scene of devastation Saturday, its houses and passageways smashed and riddled with bullet holes after fierce fighting against Israeli occupation.

Several bodies lay decaying in the inner-city camp, the epicenter of resistance to Israel's two-week-old West Bank campaign. Women and children struggled to survive in the ruins of the camp, cut off from the world by the Israeli army as it crushed Palestinian militants there.

Soldiers fought vicious house-to-house battles with gunmen who laid booby traps, staged lightning ambushes and used suicide bombers who, Israeli commanders said, included youngsters.

Reisner said 37 Palestinian bodies have been found in army searches of the Jenin refugee camp, and that 26 of them remain in locations that have been marked but not touched out of concern for booby traps.

On Sunday the camp perimeter was still being watched around the clock by soldiers in tanks and armored combat vehicles to keep outsiders away. Jenin is under a general military curfew that is periodically lifted to allow residents to stock up on essentials.

(Reuters, AP)