Gaza government says Israel returned 47 exhumed bodies

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Gaza’s Hamas-run government media office said Thursday that Israel had returned dozens of bodies that had been exhumed from graves in the besieged territory in recent weeks.

Israeli forces have on several occasions taken bodies from Gaza to Israel for examinations as they look for hostages seized during Hamas’ October 7 attack.

AFP journalists have previously witnessed the reburial of bodies which Gaza officials said had been exhumed by Israeli forces in November, December and January.

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The 47 new bodies sent back by Israel on Thursday “have been transferred to Al-Najjar Hospital” in Rafah, in southern Gaza, the besieged territory’s crossings and borders authority said in a statement.

A separate statement from the Hamas-run government media office said they would be “buried in a recently established mass grave” near Rafah.

“The bodies were seized and transferred to Israel under the pretext of examination and verification” to ensure they were not those of hostages held in Gaza, the government statement said.

Since the start of the war, Israeli officials have exhumed “hundreds” of bodies from graves at hospitals in the Gaza Strip, it said.

The Israeli army told AFP it was looking into reports about the latest group of returned bodies.

Hamas took around 250 Israeli and foreign hostages during the October 7 attack, dozens of whom were released during a week-long truce in November. Israel believes 99 of them remain alive in Gaza and that 31 have died.

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The attack resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory military campaign to destroy Hamas has resulted in the deaths of at least 30,800 people in Gaza, the majority of them women and children, according to the territory’s health ministry.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is under immense domestic pressure to secure the return of hostages as part of any new truce deal with Hamas.

That pressure intensified after soldiers killed three hostages in December, mistakenly perceiving them as a threat.

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