JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel is holding the bodies of five Islamic Jihad terrorists killed in the Gaza terror tunnel that the Israel Defense Forces blew up last week.
The army said Sunday that it has the bodies, days after Hamas, which controls Gaza, asked to be allowed to search for the missing men. Israeli officials said the bodies should be used to bargain with Hamas over the citizens and soldiers’ bodies that Hamas is holding.
“Until we get back our dear ones, they won’t get the body of even one terrorist,” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement.
The tunnel the army blew up Monday stretched from Khan Younis in Gaza to Israel and is believed to have been dug after the 2014 Gaza war. The tunnel was under “active construction” at the time of its demolition. At least 12 Gazan Palestinians were killed and 11 injured in the blast, according to reports. Most of those in the tunnel at the time of the explosion were members of the Islamic Jihad terror group.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said the bodies were discovered during supplementary activities to close up the tunnel.
“The bodies of the five martyrs will not remain for long in Israel’s hands. We know how to recover bodies of our people,” Islamic Jihad said in response to the news that Israel is holding the bodies, Ynet reported. “The campaign continues and will not end.”
It is believed that the terror group was alluding to capturing Israeli soldiers and holding them to exchange for the bodies.
On Thursday, the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking that Hamas be allowed to search for the bodies still missing since the explosion.
The Israeli army responded that it was still working in the area. The families of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, two Israeli soldiers who were killed in the Gaza war in 2014 and whose bodies are being held by Hamas, also objected.
Hamas also reportedly asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to ask Israel to allow them to search the destroyed tunnel for the bodies, but the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories agency said it would only agree if Hamas worked toward the release of the two bodies and two living Israeli civilians it is holding. Hamas did not agree to the conditions.