Israeli soldier's mother asks world to help repatriate remains from Gaza

Geneva (AFP) –


The mother of an Israeli soldier killed in Gaza in 2014 demanded Monday international action to bring him home, suggesting aid to the enclave should be contingent on Hamas returning his remains.

Leah Goldin gave an emotional appeal to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, lamenting that Hamas had "cruelly tormented our family" for five years by denying her son a proper burial.

Lieutenant Hadar Goldin was 23 when he was killed in August 2014, shortly after a UN-backed ceasefire was declared in the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas.

The war left 2,251 dead on the Palestinian side, the majority civilians, and 74 on the Israeli side, most of them soldiers.

Goldin's remains and those of another soldier killed in the war, Oron Shaul, are believed to be in the hands of Hamas, the Islamist movement governing the Palestinian enclave.

Two Israeli civilians -- both reputed to be mentally unstable -- are also believed to be in Hamas custody after entering the blockaded Gaza Strip.

"For five years, Hamas has been holding our son... in flagrant violation of Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law," Leah Goldin told the council, urging members to "please imagine just for a moment: what if this was your son?"

Goldin, who was invited by the non-governmental organisation UN Watch to take its allotted spot and briefly address the council during a general debate, voiced hope that the passage of a Security Council resolution in June could mark a turning point.

Resolution 2474 states that nations are jointly responsible for ensuring the prompt return of people who go missing during armed conflict, and urges UN special envoys to make the issue a priority.

"This is a huge development. It really marks a paradigm shift," Goldin told AFP, insisting that it means returning the missing, both dead and alive, should be an obligatory "confidence-building" step at the start of any negotiations to end a conflict.

And, she said, donors currently meeting in New York to discuss aid projects for Gaza should make the aid contingent on Hamas releasing her son's remains.

"There should be no more blank checks" to Hamas, she said, insisting though that she was very much in favour of aid going to Gaza, whose some two million inhabitants are heavily dependent on international assistance.

"I would like to see Gaza like Singapore," she said, stressing though that "the first thing to do is to return my son and Oron, and hostages as a confidence building step".

Goldin said she felt she and her family had made great progress in advocating for the release of her son's remains, including through a meeting with UN chief Antonio Guterres last month.

But, she said: "I feel so small sometimes... I need the world's help."