JERUSALEM: Israel on Thursday handed over the remains of 91 Palestinian militants, including suicide bombers, to the West Bank government in an effort to induce President Mahmoud Abbas to renew peace talks.
All 91 were killed over the past decades while carrying out suicide bombings or other attacks on Israeli targets, Palestinian officials said. At least one of the attacks dated back to the 1970s.
The bodies had been buried in coffins in Israel and were dug up for the transfer. The Palestinian official in charge of Thursday's transfer, Salem Khileh, said Israeli officials handed over the remains to Palestinian liaisons in the Jordan Valley.
Eighty bodies were then transported to Ramallah, and 11 to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
Near the crossing from Israel to Gaza, families held framed pictures of their dead sons as they awaited the bodies. Ahmad Kahlout's 21-year-old son Yehiya was killed 17 years ago after he raided an Israeli settlement.
"I am happy they are sending back his body so I can go and pray on his grave before I die," said Kahlout, 78. "Until my dying day I will be proud of him, but also sad for the years I wasn't able to visit his grave."
Palestinian government ceremonies honoring the dead militants were to be held in the West Bank and Gaza later Thursday.
"We hope that this humanitarian gesture will serve both as a confidence-building measure and help get the peace process back on track," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said.
"Israel is ready for the immediate resumption of peace talks without any preconditions whatsoever," Regev added.
Abbas has given no sign that the gesture would persuade him to return to talks.
On Wednesday, he reiterated that the Palestinians would not return to negotiations unless Israel freezes all settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Palestinians see those areas, captured by Israel in 1967, as the core of a future state that would also include Gaza.
Israel rejects that demand. Israeli-Palestinian talks stalled more than three years ago and have failed to take off again despite U.S. mediation, primarily because of the dispute over settlement construction.