TEL AVIV – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday announced that Israel would hold on to the bodies of terrorists killed during last week’s tunnel blast, a move that Israeli lawmakers said would help in a potential exchange for the bodies of slain IDF soldiers held in Gaza.
“The government has two major goals. The first is to protect the country, and the second is to build up the country. We’re working on both simultaneously. We’re defending our country with a simple rule – we attack whoever attacks us,” Netanyahu said on his return from London where he celebrated the Balfour Declaration’s centennial.
“The second [rule] is that we’re not going to give something for nothing,” he added, implying that the bodies of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists may be used in a future swap for the bodies of Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul, two IDF soldiers who were killed in the 2014 conflict with Gaza. Three other Israeli citizens, Avraham Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Juma Abu Anima, are also believed to be in captivity in Gaza.
Likud MK and former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter said that it was incumbent upon Israel to keep the terrorists’ bodies.
“The bodies of these terrorists are bargaining chips,” Dichter said. “Those terrorists bodies should not be handed over until the boys are returned to us.”
Public Security Minister and Minister for Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan said, “Israel must treat the Gaza Strip as a single entity and make it clear that until we receive our loved ones, they will not receive a single body.”
“The Israeli government must speak to Hamas in a clear voice and say that the bodies of the terrorists will not be returned until the [fallen] soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul are brought back to Israel,” opposition leader Avi Gabbay said, adding that Israel has an obligation to do everything in its power to bring the bodies back to Israel.
The Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group slammed Israel’s decision.
“The movement is committed to work to bring back the pure bodies in the way that the enemy forces it,” PIJ’s spokesman Daoud Shehab said.
Hamas echoed PIJ’s statement.
“The Zionist occupation taking captive the martyrs’ bodies is a desperate attempt to impose a new equation on the resistance,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.
PIJ responded to the IDF’s announcement that it was keeping the bodies of five terrorists found in the tunnel by saying that Israel “will not be able to bargain over our fighters.”
“Our battle is open and shall not end. The freedom tunnel is not the only tunnel owned by the Islamic Jihad. It has many tunnels and many options,” senior PIJ member Ahmad al-Mudalal warned.