Israel hands back militants' bodies
Published 31/05/2012 | 11:51
Israel has handed over the remains of 91 Palestinian militants, including suicide bombers, to the West Bank government in an effort to persuade President Mahmoud Abbas to renew peace talks.
All 91 were killed while carrying out attacks on Israeli targets. 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. Israeli officials then handed over the remains to Palestinian officials in the Jordan Valley.
Eighty bodies were then transported to Ramallah, and 11 to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
Palestinian government ceremonies honouring the dead militants were to be held in the West Bank and Gaza later.
"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," he added.
Mr Abbas has given no sign that the gesture would persuade him to return to talks.
On Wednesday, he reiterated that the Palestinians would not return to negotiations unless Israel freezes all settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Palestinians see those areas, captured by Israel in 1967, as the core of a future state that would also include Gaza.
Israel rejects that demand. Israeli-Palestinian talks stalled more than three years ago.