Israel holding bodies of 450 Palestinians since 7 October

Israel is holding the bodies of 450 Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the so-called “cemeteries of numbers”, a local NGO claimed on Tuesday, reports Anadolu. Among the bodies are 18 Palestinian detainees who died inside Israeli jails, added the National Campaign for the Retrieval of Bodies of Palestinians.

The victims “include the bodies of 21 minors, five women and 52 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip,” said the NGO. “Israel withheld 101 bodies of Palestinians in 2023, the largest to have been recorded in a year.” The campaign group added that the figures do not include the bodies of the martyrs detained in Gaza and its surroundings since 7 October “due to the lack of accurate information.”

The “cemeteries of numbers” are secret burial sites surrounded by stones and lacking proper markers. Each grave has a metal plate with a specific number, hence the name. Each number corresponds to an individual file held by the relevant Israeli security authorities.

Human rights organisations confirm that these graves date back to the establishment of Israel and the cemeteries have been used extensively since the armed Palestinian resistance began in June 1967. Withholding Palestinian bodies constitutes collective punishment by Israel which is prohibited under the Hague Regulations of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

In September 2019, the Israeli Supreme Court issued a decision allowing the military commander to temporarily detain the bodies of Palestinians killed by the army and bury them in order to use them as “future bargaining chips”.

Israel has launched air and ground attacks on the Gaza Strip since a cross-border attack by Palestinian resistance group Hamas on 7 October. At least 22,185 Palestinians have since been killed by Israel in Gaza, with almost 58,000 others wounded, according to the enclave’s health authorities. The Israeli onslaught has left Gaza in ruins and facing a humanitarian catastrophe. Sixty per cent of the enclave’s infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, and nearly 2 million residents have been displaced amid acute shortages of food, clean water and medicines.

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