Israel to free two Syrian prisoners in return for soldier’s remains

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Israel will release two prisoners in return for the remains of an Israeli soldier missing since 1982 which were recovered by Russian special forces in Syria, an Israeli official said.

Russia this month handed over the remains and personal effects of Zachary Baumel, who was 21 when he was declared missing in action along with two other soldiers in the Battle of Sultan Yacoub during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.

“Israel has decided to release two prisoners as a goodwill gesture,” the Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Saturday, according to Reuters.

The official did not reveal the identities or nationalities of the prisoners.

But Russia, which secured the return of Baumel’s remains from Syria, said they were Syrian.

Baumel went missing during the Sultan Yacoub battle between the Israeli army and Syrian forces during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Later on Saturday, the Arabic service of Israel’s Kan radio identified the two prisoners as Nashit Ahmed, 35, and Zidan Tawil, 57, the Associated Press reported.

The first was arrested 14 years ago when he was trying to infiltrate an Israeli army base, and the second is a resident of a Golan Heights village who was arrested on drug charges, the radio said, citing security sources.

On Friday, the Russian envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev said the return of Baumel’s body was not a “unilateral” step.

“A decision was made by the Israeli side and implementing it might take some time and there will be a release of some Syrian citizens held in Israeli jails. Therefore we should not explain this as a unilateral act,” Lavrentiev said in an interview with a Russian broadcaster.

(With Agencies)