The two Gazan terrorist organizations—Hamas and the Islamic Jihad—which have had five men missing or killed in the tunnel detonated by Israel earlier this week, declared the men Friday morning to be killed in action, and refused to deal on the ability to search for them in exchange for the return of Israeli prisoners of war and missing persons still held in Gaza.
The joint Palestinian decision came following an announcement by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Thursday, who said Israel would not allow Hamas and the Islamic Jihad to extract the men without progress being made on the return of missing Israeli soldiers and citizens.
The Al-Quds Brigades, military wing of the Islamic Jihad, officially announced the five missing men were presumed dead, bringing the total number of terrorist casualties in the detonation to 12, alongside 11 who were wounded. "The detonated tunnel is not the only tunnel we posses to cross into Israel," the organization added.
Hamas came out with a simultaneous declaration through its senior official Mahmoud a-Zahar, who responded to COGAT Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai's announcement in saying, "We will not be supplying Israel with information on the missing persons in return for locating our missing men from the tunnel. As far as we're concerned, they were buried in their homeland."
A-Zahar added he refused to accede to the terms set by Israel regarding providing information about Israeli prisoners in Gaza in order to allow the search for the missing terrorists to continue.
"No details on the soldiers will be provided in exchange for continuing the search for our missing men. Information will only be provided in return for releasing prisoners incarcerated in Israeli jails," a-Zahar said, noting he considered Israel's terms to be blackmail.
"There are martyrs buried in every piece of this land, and our stance has therefore remained unyielding: whether the martyrs are buried in Gaza or on the border, they are buried on our land either way," a-Zahar concluded.
COGAT Mordechai announced Thursday that "Following overtures from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to allow searching for the missing terrorists underneath the tunnel, received by the IDF this week, Maj.-Gen. Mordechai spoke to Jacques De Maio, the head of the ICRC delegation to Israel, stressing to him that Israel would not allow search efforts in the Gaza Strip security zone without progress on the issue of Israeli POWs and MIAs."
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said Friday morning he has been working in complete cooperation with the defense establishment and the IDF to construct judicial recourse both for the tunnel incident itself and for Israel's routine security needs.
Mandelblit noted the request to search for killed or wounded terrorists came from the ICRC. In his legal opinion, the Attorney General stressed that according to both international law and the High Court's ruling on the matter, searches may be delayed or prevented altogether in light of security considerations presented by the relevant entities.
Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman made clear his stance in opposing allowing Hamas and the Islamic Jihad entry into the Gaza Strip security zone to extract the bodies of their men. "The decision was made by the political, rather than legal, ranks. Any disagreement will invariably be decided on by the ministerial cabinet," Lieberman said.
The following pronouncements came on the heels of declarations made by the families of Sgt. Oron Shaul and Lt. Hadar Goldin, whose bodies have been held by Hamas since Operation Protective Edge.
"Any Israeli humanitarian gesture toward Hamas must be conditioned in the return of our sons home. If the Israeli government accedes to Hamas demands, it would constitute a moral injustice and diplomatic weakness. It cannot be that the government continues acceding to Hamas's humanitarian caprices while IDF soldiers are being held by it," the Goldin family said
The Shaul family provided its own statement, saying, "We hope the Israeli government doesn't dare accede to Hamas's request as long as they're not returning Oron. Oron was kidnapped into a tunnel the Hamas fighters dug, and has been held by them in Gaza for more than three years, while they refuse to allow the Red Cross to ascertain his situation."
Both Shaul and Goldin, who were killed in Gaza during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, were declared by the IDF's chief rabbi as fallen soldiers whose place of burial was unknown.
In response to the Israeli refusal to acquiesce to the Palestinian organizations' demand, "Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel" and the "Al Mezan Center for Human Rights" contacted the High Court of Justice in an appeal to hold an emergency hearing instructing the IDF to allow extraction of the trapped terrorists.
Adalah claimed "Preventing search, extraction and evacuation of the wounded men—who may die as a result of the Israeli attack—constitutes a flagrant contravention of Israeli law as well as the norms of international law the State of Israel is bound by."
Elior Levy, Tova Tzimuki, Yoav Zitun, Telem Yahav and Korin Elbaz Alush contributed to this report.