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The government must unearth the remains of people buried in the Gaza settlement of Neveh Dekalim and rebury them in Israel, chief rabbis Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar said in a religious ruling issued last week.

Normally, they noted, Jewish law forbids unearthing the dead. However, it permits this for the purpose of reburial in Israel, or to move the dead from a place where non-Jews are likely to desecrate their graves.

"In this case, where there is concern that non-Jews will show disrespect for the dead and desecrate the graves if the [disengagement] plan is implemented, it is clear and obvious that respect for the dead entails moving them elsewhere," the rabbis wrote to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

They suggested that the remains be reburied on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

However, they added, the transfers must be effected with the consent of and in coordination with the families of the deceased.

Sharon asked the rabbis for a ruling three weeks ago. By law, the chief rabbis are the government's supreme arbiter on religious affairs.

Two weeks ago, in response to a petition on the matter, Sharon told the High Court of Justice that no remains would be unearthed before August 15, when the evacuation is due to begin.