Israel to hold remains of deceased Palestinian prisoner

JERUSALEM (AP): Israel’s defense minister said Wednesday that the remains of a Palestinian prisoner who died a day earlier from lung cancer would not be released for burial.

Benny Gantz’s office said the body of Nasser Abu Hamid, one of the founders of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, would be held as a bargaining chip for the return of captive Israelis and the remains of soldiers held by the militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Abu Hamid, 50, was a former leader of the armed wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party. He had been serving multiple life sentences since 2002 after being convicted in the deaths of seven Israelis during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israel’s occupation in the early 2000s.

Palestinians marched and shuttered shops in the West Bank on Tuesday to protest his death.

Israel often withholds the remains of Palestinians killed while allegedly carrying out attacks. Israel says the policy serves as a deterrent for future attacks and leverage for prisoner exchanges, while rights groups say the action is a form of collective punishment inflicted on grieving families.

Hamas has been holding two Israeli captives and the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed during the 2014 Gaza war.

The families of those four Israelis met with Pope Francis in the Vatican on Wednesday, and the pope “expressed deep solidarity with them, especially with the suffering of the mothers,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said.

Palestinian officials had called for Abu Hamid’s release as his health deteriorated in recent months, and on Tuesday blamed Israel for his death.

Gantz denied the allegations that Israel had any involvement in Abu Hamid’s death.

Abu Hamid’s death came as one of the deadliest years in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in recent decades draws to a close and with the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution increasingly remote.