The bodies were returned by the Israelis on Monday in a gesture understood by Gazans as the first concrete benefit of a truce declared last week.


Even as the bodies were being returned, Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Hebron on Monday shot and killed a Palestinian they claimed tried to stab a soldier.

  

On Thursday, the last time a Palestinian was killed by Israeli forces, the resistance group Hamas rained dozens of mortars and rockets on Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, endangering the truce, then just two days old.


Both the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad groups have since pledged to halt attacks against Israel but have stopped short of accepting the official truce Palestiniain President Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced last Tuesday.

  

Also, Palestinians said last-minute disagreements are holding up the handover of Jericho to Palestinian control.

 

Emotional event

 

Meanwhile, in Gaza City, tens of thousands of Palestinians poured into the streets as 15 ambulances carrying the bodies of the fighters rolled into Gaza City's main square, escorted by Palestinian security. Dozens of fighters stood in the square, raising the banners of their groups and saluting the bodies.

  

The bodies were received by
Palestinian security officials

A sign bearing the name of the dead man inside was affixed to the windshield of each ambulance, and the Palestinian police band played the Palestinian national anthem as the convoy proceeded.

  

The fighters were killed in attacks on Israeli army outposts in Gaza and other Israeli targets over the past two years. It was not clear why Israel kept their remains.

  

This latest overture is to be followed in the next few days with an Israeli release of 500 Palestinian prisoners and the handover of Jericho, the first of five West Bank towns that Israel has promised to restore to Palestinian control.

 

However, Palestinians said disagreements over removal of roadblocks is delaying the transfer, tentatively set for Tuesday or Wednesday.