Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Wednesday that Israel would not return the body of a palestinian terrorist who died of cancer while serving time in an Israeli prison a day earlier.
Nasser Abu Hmeid, 51, was a founding member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorist group, the armed wing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party. He had been serving multiple life sentences since 2002, after being convicted of the deaths of seven Israelis during the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising against Israel, in the early 2000s.
Gantz’s office said the decision not to release Abu Hmeid’s body for burial was made after an assessment he conducted with senior security officials and a previous security cabinet failure.
Two years ago, Israel’s cabinet ruled that the country could hold the bodies of Palestinians accused of murdering, injuring others or in possession of weapons, even if they were not affiliated with the Hamas terror group.
Israel’s previous policy was only to preserve the bodies of Hamas terrorists for a possible prisoner exchange with the terror group. Others were returned to their families for burial.
Whether retaining the bodies of attackers is an effective policy is a matter of debate within the security establishment. Some believe it gives Israel an added advantage in negotiations with Hamas, as well as acting as a deterrent against attacks. Others see it as ineffective and based on shaky legal ground.
Despite the ruling, there have been cases where Israel has released the bodies of Palestinians accused of committing attacks.
The Israel Prison Service (IPS) confirmed Abu Hmeid’s death at a Tel Aviv-area hospital on Tuesday morning. He said that he had been terminally ill and was hospitalized a day earlier. The service added that “as in all such cases, the incident will be investigated.”
The Palestinian Prisoners Club, a group representing former and current prisoners, said Abu Hmeid was diagnosed with cancer in August 2021.
Palestinian officials blamed Israel for Abu Hmeid’s death. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh accused Israel of “deliberate medical negligence.”
Shtayyeh said she was mourning the death of Abu Hmeid “on behalf of the government and our Palestinian people.”
Hamas called Abu Hmeid’s death a “serious crime” against Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinian people. He called for “a real escalation in the occupation prisons” in response to his death.
IPS rejected the allegations of negligence, saying the prisoner “received regular and close care by IPS medical staff and external professionals.”
Gantz also on Wednesday rejected “false claims that Israel was involved in his death.”
In 2002, Abu Hmeid, the right-hand man of arch-terrorist Marwan Barghouti, was convicted of murdering seven Israelis—Eliyahu Cohen, Binyamin and Talia Kahane, Gad Rejwan, Yosef Habi, Eli Dahan, and Salim Barakat—in a series of terror attacks. . attacks during the Second Intifada that he carried out personally or led from afar. During the trial, the Israeli authorities described him as a “killing machine”.
He was also convicted of 12 counts of attempted murder and various other security-related charges and has been serving several life sentences.
He had previously been found guilty of murdering five Palestinians who collaborated with Israel in 1990, but was released a few years later as part of the Oslo Accords.
As his health worsened, Abu Hmeid was taken to Shamir Medical Center on Monday, where he was given pain-control medication.
His mother was in the process of getting permission to visit him in hospital when he died, according to the official Palestinian news outlet Wafa. His family were previously allowed to visit him in hospital in January after he underwent surgery to remove a tumor on his lung.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.