Israel to free 2 prisoners after soldier's body returned

Israel agrees to release two Syrian prisoners in gesture of 'goodwill' following return of IDF soldier Zachary Baumel's remains.


Gilboa terrorist prison
Gilboa terrorist prison
Flash 90

Israel will release two prisoners after the remains of one of its soldiers missing since 1982 during fighting in Lebanon were returned with help from Russia, an Israeli official said Saturday.

A Russian official said the prisoners were Syrians.

The Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity said two prisoners were being released as a "goodwill gesture" after the return of the remains of Israeli soldier Zachary Baumel earlier this month.

The decision was not part of a pre-arranged deal, he said.

"Only after the return of the body of Zachary Baumel, Israel decided in recent days to free two prisoners as a goodwill gesture," the official said.

"It had not been decided before."

But there were signs of a brewing controversy in Israel as some media reported that the decision to release the prisoners was sanctioned by the attorney general without cabinet approval.

The official did not provide details on the prisoners but Moscow's envoy for Syria in an interview with Russia's RT television said they were Syrians.

Alexander Lavrentiev said Russia was grateful to Syria for helping to return Baumel's remains, adding that Israel had decided to free a number of Syrians in return.

Israeli soldiers fought against Syrian forces in a battle on June 10-11, 1982 in the Lebanese village of Sultan Yacoub, near the Syrian border.

Some 20 Israeli soldiers were killed in that fighting.

Baumel and two other soldiers, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz, were listed as missing and presumed killed. The latter two remain missing.

Israel is still technically at war with both Syria and Lebanon.

The return of the remains of soldiers missing in action is a highly important issue in Israel, which has fought repeated wars with its Arab neighbors since its 1948 founding.

Israeli media reported that the prisoners set to be released were Zidan Tweil, who was convicted of drug trafficking and was due to be released in July, and Hamis Ahmed.

Ahmed is reported to be a Fatah member from Yarmuk refugee camp in Syria who was originally due to be freed in 2023, after he attempted to attack an Israeli army base in 2005.

Israel's military announced on April 3 that Baumel's remains had been returned, bringing to a close a highly sensitive case for Israelis.

The announcement also came less than a week before hotly contested Israeli elections, which saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu win a fifth term.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said during a visit by Netanyahu that the remains had been found by the Russian and Syrian armies.

Syrian Information Minister Imad Sara on April 4 said that Damascus had no knowledge of plans to repatriate the remains, nor was it aware of the details behind the discovery of the body and its subsequent transfer.