Footage emerged earlier this week from a bulldozed graveyard in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, where smashed graves lay open and human remains covered in shrouds had been left on the surface without being reburied.
The IDF said in a statement that its soldiers dug up graves in the cemetery to see if dead hostages were buried there, and that they treated the bodies with “dignity and respect”.
The IDF also said that the hostages’ identification process was conducted at a secure and alternative location, and that the bodies that were not those of hostages were “returned with dignity and respect”.
The IDF added that if not for Hamas’ “reprehensible decision” to take Israeli hostages, the need for such searches would not exist.
The IDF’s admission came after several reports and videos of the desecration of the cemetery circulated on social media, sparking outrage and condemnation from Palestinians and human rights groups.
The Palestinian Ministry of Information said in a statement that the IDF’s actions were a “flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and human dignity”, and that they amounted to a “war crime and a crime against humanity”.
The ministry also said that the IDF’s actions were part of its “systematic policy of collective punishment, ethnic cleansing, and genocide” against the Palestinian people.
The ministry called on the international community and the UN to intervene and hold Israel accountable for its “crimes and aggression” in Gaza.
The Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, a Gaza-based NGO, said in a statement that the IDF’s actions were “inhumane and immoral”, and that they violated the sanctity of the dead and the religious and cultural values of the Palestinians.
The center also said that the IDF’s actions were “illegal and unjustified”, and that they contravened the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the desecration of graves and the mutilation of corpses.
The center urged the international community and the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate and prosecute the IDF’s actions as war crimes.
The IDF’s actions also drew criticism from some Israeli politicians and activists, who denounced them as “barbaric” and “shameful”.
Merav Michaeli, the leader of the opposition Labor Party, said in a tweet that the IDF’s actions were “a disgrace to the state of Israel and its values”.
She also said that the IDF’s actions were “a gift to Hamas and its propaganda”, and that they harmed Israel’s image and security.
Yair Golan, a former IDF deputy chief of staff and a lawmaker from the left-wing Meretz Party, said in a tweet that the IDF’s actions were “a moral failure and a strategic mistake”.
He also said that the IDF’s actions were “a violation of the basic rules of war and the Jewish tradition”, and that they undermined Israel’s legitimacy and morality.
The IDF’s actions came amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, which has entered its third month with no sign of a lasting ceasefire.
According to Hamas officials, more than 23,000 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 2 million displaced by Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, which has also caused widespread damage to infrastructure, health facilities, and schools.
According to Israeli officials, about 1,200 Israelis have been killed and thousands injured by Hamas’ rocket attacks, which have also targeted civilian areas and critical facilities.
The conflict has also sparked protests and violence in the West Bank, Israel, and other countries, and has raised regional and international tensions.
The conflict has also triggered a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where more than 1.9 million people are facing shortages of food, water, medicine, and fuel, and where the health system is on the verge of collapse due to the Israeli bombardment and the Covid-19 pandemic.
The conflict has also complicated the efforts to rescue and recover the hostages, who are among the 240 people taken by Hamas in its October 7 attack.
Israel says that 132 hostages are still in Gaza, of whom 105 are alive and 27 are dead.
Israel considers those declared dead to still be hostages, and has vowed to bring them back home.
Israel has also accused Hamas of using the hostages as human shields and bargaining chips, and has rejected any negotiations or concessions for their release.
Hamas has denied holding any hostages, and has accused Israel of lying and fabricating evidence.
Hamas has also demanded an end to the Israeli siege and aggression on Gaza, and the lifting of the blockade and the sanctions on the enclave, as preconditions for any ceasefire or dialogue.