Page last updated at 21:17 GMT, Tuesday, 8 September 2009 22:17 UK

Israel organs claim row deepens

Israeli soldiers near the West Bank town of Nablus (14 August 2009)
The Swedish article said Israeli soldiers had taken organs from dead prisoners

A Palestinian minister and an Israeli Arab member of parliament have stoked a row over allegations that Israel has taken organs from dead Palestinians.

Issa Qaraqae said Israel was hiding the bodies of dead Palestinian prisoners to disguise evidence of organ trafficking.

Israeli Arab MP Mohammed Barakeh said he would believe the organ-removal claims unless Israel disproved them.

Israel has angrily denied the allegations, first made in a Swedish newspaper, calling them "outrageous".

Mr Qaraqae said Israel was "hiding the bodies of Palestinian martyrs to remove the proof of their crimes, including organ trafficking".

He was speaking at a meeting in the West Bank city of Nablus to demand the return of the bodies of Palestinians killed by the Israeli army.

At the same meeting, Mr Barakeh, chairman of the Hadash party in the Israeli Knesset, said it was the right of Palestinians to ask "what Israel's reasons are for keeping the bodies of martyrs".

"Have the bodies been mutilated? My answer is yes, barring proof to the contrary. Have their organs been stolen? My answer is yes, barring proof to the contrary," he said.

'Outrageous' claim

Mr Barakeh later told Israel's Yediot Ahronot newspaper: "Seeing as there is no worse way to punish a man and his family than with his death, the question is why Israel continues to hold the bodies."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (27 August 2009)
Mr Netanyahu said the claims were reminiscent of medieval 'blood libels'

"The burden of proof falls on Israel, and as long as it refuses to say what the status of the bodies is or return them, it is hiding something awful," he said.

The organ harvesting story was first published in August in Aftonbladet, Sweden's biggest-selling daily newspaper.

It claimed that in incidents dating back as far as 1992, Israeli soldiers snatched Palestinian youths and returned their dismembered bodies a few days later.

Donald Bostrom, the author of the article, told Israel Radio he did not know whether allegations made by Palestinians in the 1990s were true, but he said that they should be investigated.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged the Swedish government to condemn the article, saying the accusations were "outrageous".

Mr Netanyahu compared the claims to medieval "blood libels", which alleged that Jews used the blood of Christian babies during religious ceremonies.

But Sweden's foreign minister Carl Bildt has said he would not condemn the article because freedom of expression is part of the Swedish constitution.

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