JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The remains of Hamas suicide bombers and commanders will not be included in a planned handover of bodies of Palestinian militants to the Palestinian Authority, Israel said Tuesday.
The Israeli military said Monday that 84 bodies would be transferred in what was widely viewed as a goodwill gesture toward Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose unity deal with Hamas Islamists has run into difficulties.
But hours after the military's announcement, Defense Minister Ehud Barak suspended the plan.
He said he wanted to ensure a handover would not weaken Israel's position in talks with Hamas to swap Israeli-held prisoners for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
In a new statement Tuesday, the Defense Ministry said Barak had decided the remains of "Hamas terrorists who carried out grave attacks on Israeli civilians will not be transferred to the Palestinian Authority."
The ministry named four Hamas commanders and a senior Islamic Jihad militant, as well as five suicide bombers.
"The defense minister also gave orders that the talks on the list of bodies not include those who were Gaza residents," the statement added, referring to the enclave controlled by Hamas, which has held Shalit for the past five years.
Officials in the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority said Monday they expected the release of the bodies within days, after a year of negotiations with Israel on the transfer of remains from an "enemy combatants'" cemetery.
Palestinian media published a list of militants from the West Bank and Gaza, killed between 1974 and 2006, whose bodies were expected to be handed over. Several were suicide bombers who carried out attacks in Israeli cities.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; editing by Robert Woodward)