Israeli officials confirmed they successfully returned the remains of a 14-year-old Palestinian after mistakenly handing back a different corpse to the teenager’s family the previous evening.
Amjad Abu Sultan was killed last month while allegedly throwing firebombs in the occupied West Bank.
About a dozen Palestinians chanting “peace to the martyr” gathered around the body after it was handed over to the Palestinian side at an Israeli military checkpoint near the West Bank city of Bethlehem. They wrapped the remains with Palestinian flag and an ambulance carried the body away.
Friday’s error, described by the Israeli army as an “unfortunate mistake”, increased focus on Israel’s controversial policy of withholding 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.
Israel agreed to return the bodies of Abu Sultan and Isra Khazimia on Friday citing “humanitarian grounds.” Abu Sultan was a minor when he committed his alleged attack while Isra Khazimia was reported to have had mental health issues.
Earlier on Saturday, Amjad’s father told the Associated Press the family notified the army of the mistake upon receiving the body at a checkpoint near Bethlehem.
“My son was 14 years old and the other body was that of a 30- or 40-year-old,” said Ussama Abu Sultan. The identity of the other body remains unknown.
In a statement issued on Friday, the Israeli army apologised for its "mistake” and said the error was being reviewed.
Abu Sultan, 14, was killed in October while attempting to throw firebombs at cars near an Israel settlement, the army said. Khazimia was shot dead by Israeli police in September after she allegedly attempted to stab an officer in Jerusalem’s Old City. Her body was buried on Saturday in her family village of Qabatiya in the Northern West Bank.
Israel has a long record of trading prisoners and bodies with its enemies and has made clear its intentions to retrieve the remains of two Israeli soldiers held by the Palestinian militant group Hamas who rule the Gaza Strip.
Israel is currently withholding about 80 Palestinian bodies, according to the Palestinian rights group The Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre. With many eventually buried in unnamed graves across a number of secret cemeteries, the rights group says there have been other cases where Israeli authorities struggled to locate or identify Palestinian bodies.