A Washington Post reporter interviewed the staff of Israel’s National Center for Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv about the identification of Israeli soldier MIA Zachary Baumel's bones 37 years after he went missing, an article published on Thursday reported.
The forensic center has tested remains for years, hoping that the DNA would match one of the Israeli soldiers missing in action. Six soldiers, including Baumel, went missing during the Battle of Sultan Yacoub in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley in June 1982. Three eventually returned, two alive and one dead. But Baumel and his fellow soldiers Tzvi Feldman and Cpl. Yehuda Katz remained missing.
“From time to time they’d bring the samples,” head of the forensics center Chen Kugel told the Post. “It’s body remains. It’s bones. It was always: maybe this time, maybe this time, maybe this time.”
According to the Post article, it was an open secret in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Syria that Israeli bodies were buried in the cemetery but the residents were unaware where exactly they were buried.
In the wake of Syria's civil war, which began in 2011, Israel turned to Syrian rebel groups for help. When the rebel groups failed to produce results, they turned to Russia, who had become increasingly involved in the war. Russia eventually retrieved the bodies that were thought to be missing Israelis from the Yarmouk cemetery and gave them to Israel, one of which proved to be the body of Zachary Baumel,
“One of the bodies was very dramatic,” Kugel recounted to the Post. “After cleaning of course, we saw the soles of the shoes with printing in Hebrew. We saw the military overalls, with Hebrew at the back, so we understood it might be someone that we were looking for.”
After the forensics center compared a sample of the remains to the DNA of the missing soldiers' relatives and found a match to Baumel, Kugel said that some of the officers cried. “In Israeli culture, it’s very important to show that we look after the soldiers and bring them home,” Kugel said.
Thousands of people attended Baumel's funeral at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem as he was laid to rest 37 years after his death on April 4, 2019.