Official: Israel to free 2 prisoners for soldier’s remains
JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli official said Saturday that Israel will free two prisoners as a “goodwill gesture” following the repatriation of a soldier’s remains from Syria, over 35 years since he went missing in action.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said the release of the prisoners was not a condition for this month’s return of the remains of soldier Zachary Baumel. He said the decision was only made in recent days.
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 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 Lavrentiev, 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.