Amnesty International urges Israel to return body of Palestinian who died of cancer in custody

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Amnesty International said Israel must release the body of Palestinian Walid Daqqa, who died a day earlier after a long battle with cancer while serving a prison sentence for commanding a group that abducted and killed an Israeli soldier.

"It is heart-wrenching that Walid Daqqah has died in Israeli custody despite the many calls for his urgent release on humanitarian grounds following his 2022 diagnosis with bone marrow cancer and the fact that he had already completed his original sentence," Erika Guevara-Rosas, senior director at Amnesty International, said on Monday.

"Israeli authorities must now return Walid Daqqah's body to his family without delay so that they could give him a peaceful and dignified burial and allow them to mourn his death without intimidation," Guevara-Rosas added.

Israel's Foreign Ministry said in a social media post: "Amnesty, you have a disturbing obsession with glorifying sadistic murderers."

It added that Daqqa had received cancer treatment in prison.

After news emerged of Daqqa's death on Sunday, Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir lamented on social media that Daqqa had not faced the death penalty. On Monday, Ben-Gvir praised police for raiding and dismantling a mourning tent set up in Daqqa's hometown.

An Israeli court sentenced Daqqa to life imprisonment in 1987 after convicting him of leading a group that abducted and killed Israeli soldier Moshe Tamam, an accusation Daqqa denied, Amnesty said.

His conviction was based on British emergency regulations, which require a lower standard of proof than Israeli criminal law, Amnesty said.

Tamam was abducted in 1984 after getting off a bus while on leave, according to Israel's Defense Ministry. The country was shaken when his body was found four days later with signs of massive head wounds and a bullet hole in his chest.

The 62-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel is survived by his wife, Sanaa Salameh, and 4-year-old daughter Milad, who was conceived using Daqqa's smuggled sperm after Israeli authorities denied him conjugal visits, Salameh has said.

Daqqa was due to be released last year after completing a 37-year sentence but a court ruling extended his jail term by two more years over accusations he provided mobile phones to other prisoners, the Palestinian Prisoners Society said.

It said Daqqa was the 14th Palestinian political prisoner to die in Israeli custody over the past six months as a result of Israeli practices that include torture and medical neglect.

A spokesperson for the Israel Prison Service (IPS) did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The IPS has previously said all prisoners in its custody are detained "according to the provisions of the law".

(Reporting by Jerusalem bureau; Editing by Deepa Babington and Bill Berkrot)