HAIFA/GAZA, November 6, 2017 (WAFA) – Two human rights groups in Haifa and Gaza denounced on Sunday Israeli army holding bodies of five Palestinians retrieved from a tunnel destroyed by the Israeli army last week saying international humanitarian law forbids holding bodies as a bargaining chip.
The families of the deceased maintain their right to demand the return of the bodies of their sons for burial, they said.
Seven people killed in the tunnel attack, some of them after inhaling poisonous gas, were retrieved in the same day, but five others were declared missing after it became impossible and dangerous to enter the tunnel to search for them due to the spread of the poisonous gas.
Israel warned the Palestinians against returning to the tunnel to search for the missing five after families of Israeli soldiers held by Hamas since the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza called on their government to prevent the Palestinians from looking for them until they provide information about their sons.
The tunnel was in an area along the Gaza border with Israel which the latter has unilaterally declared as a "buffer zone" – a strip of land 300 meters deep along the Palestinian side of the border – and any Palestinian entering it can come under Israeli military fire.
However, the Israeli military revealed on Sunday, a week after the attack, that it has retrieved and is now holding the bodies of the five Palestinians.
The Haifa-based Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza said in a joint statement that the holding of bodies contradicts the principles of international humanitarian law.
“Bodies of individuals who are killed during situations of conflict must be returned to their families for burial with dignity. International humanitarian law prohibits using bodies for political purposes or as bargaining chips,” they said.
The two groups had earlier petitioned the Israeli High Court to order the Israeli military to allow Palestinian search and rescue teams from Gaza to enter the ‘buffer zone” in a timely manner to locate and rescue people trapped in the destroyed tunnel.
However, the two groups withdrew their petition following the Israeli army revelation that it has the bodies.