This week, the bodies of 91 fallen Palestinians interred in the so-called Israeli cemetery of numbers were returned to their families in an official ceremony in Ramallah. On May 31, Palestinian officials, family members and citizens gathered for a bittersweet welcome of the bodies at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah. President Mahmoud Abbas laid wreaths on 79 of the coffins, draped in Palestinian flags, while the remaining 12 were sent to the Gaza Strip and received by large crowds and Hamas officials there.
The bodies were of Palestinians who died in operations against Israel, some having been buried since 1976. According to spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Ofir Gendelman, the handover was a "gesture" to President Mahmoud Abbas. Palestinians of course see it as a right that was regained by their persistence.
The handover of the bodies was the first of two phases; the second one Palestinian officials say will be later this month. According to Amin Al-Bayed, the Hebron coordinator of a national campaign to recover the bodies, there are still 379 other bodies in Israeli custody. The second phase will see the handover of some 60 Ė 70 bodies of Palestinian martyrs.
At the presidential headquarters, the bodies were greeted by the President along with several other senior Palestinian officials and given a 21-gun salute before being delivered each to their hometown for final burial.
On June 1, an armed clash at the southern border with Gaza resulted in the death of an Israeli soldier, and the Palestinian gunman 22-year-old Ahmad Abu Naser. Local media reports said the Islamic Jihad had taken responsibility for the operation. Later, spokesman for the Al-Quds Brigades, the Islamic Jihadís armed wing ĎAbu Ahmadí, denied any involvement in the attack.
Israel retaliated for the operation by bombing the border area, initially wounding four people in the town of Abbasan. Witnesses said Israeli aircraft bombed an auto rickshaw travelling near the border. Later in the day, 34-year old Naji Qadeeh died from his wounds.
Meanwhile, two Palestinians continued their hunger strike and are currently in serious condition in the Ramleh Prison Hospital. Mahmoud al-Sarsak has been on hunger strike for 74 days and Akram al-Rekhawi has refused food for 50 days. Israeli prison services are refusing to transfer them to a civilian hospital, which is more equipped for their grave condition.
On May 30, al-Sarsak's mother expressed deep concern for her sonís life. ďI think of him every minute as he is hungry and dying," she told Maan. "Are they waiting to bring him dead to me? Why is there no one moving to save his life?"
Meanwhile, in complete disregard of the newly signed prisoners deal, on June 27, Israeli authorities renewed the administrative detention of four PLC members from Bethlehem, Ramallah and Hebron. Mohammed Natsheh was given a four-month sentence for the fourth time, Khalil Rjoub, six months for the fourth time, Hassan Yousef, six months for the second time and Khaled Tafesh, three months for the second time.
On June 1, Israeli officials said they are studying a proposal to move residents of the Ulpana settler outpost to nearby Palestinian land confiscated for an army base. The Israeli Civil Administration said it was looking into the possibility of moving the settlers to 11-dunams, confiscated in 1970.
Reconciliation efforts seem to be making progress with Hamas and Fatah officials ending two meetings in Cairo at the end of May in which they discussed the formation of a national unity government and welcomed the start of voter registration updates in Gaza. According to Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouq on May 31, President Abbas will call a PLC meeting in late June after a unity government has been chosen. Talks to choose members of a technocratic government will begin on June 5 and should be completed by June 20, Abu Marzouq said. Fatah leader Azzam Al Ahmad also confirmed that progress was on the way but said on May 30 that he would not go into details yet of specific names for the new government.
The positive vibes come after the May 29 meeting of the Central Elections Committee with Hamas in Gaza, including de facto prime minister there Ismail Haniyeh. The deposed government said it had given its blessing and full support for the work of the CEC. Voter registration updates are to begin today for a period of six weeks according to Gaza regional coordinator Jamil Khaldi.
On May 31, President Abbas met with his German counterpart Joachim Gauck in Ramallah. In a press conference following the meeting, Ababs said Israel's insistence on shifting the terms of reference for negotiations was responsible for the deadlock in the peace process. He also said Israeli violations of international resolutions were hindering talks, at the same time thanking Germany for its political and economic support to Palestine.
Meanwhile Gauck reiterated Germany's support of the two-state solution and pledged 70 million Euros to the PA to support institution building, including in the fields of education and security.
Finally, on May 28, dozens of Israeli soldiers and special forces entered the Aqsa Mosque compound and raised the Israeli flag in front of the Dome of the Rock. According to Sheikh Ahmad Azzam, head of the Waqf, 160 Israeli police and soldiers entered and toured the compound in what he called a ďprovocationĒ, saying he sent a letter to the Israeli police in protest.