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Putin says body of missing Israeli soldier found by Russian army

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on April 4, 2019. (Photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko / POOL / AFP)

The body of an Israeli soldier missing since the 1982 Lebanon War was found by the Russian and Syrian armies, President Vladimir Putin said Thursday.

Sergeant First Class Zachary Baumel had been listed as missing along with two other Israeli soldiers in a deadly battle with Syrian forces in a Lebanese village, and the return of his remains will bring to a close a highly sensitive case for Israelis.

Putin made the revelation at a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is visiting Moscow five days before he is to seek a fifth term in office in a difficult election.

Netanyahu, 69, is running in the April 9 vote despite facing potential corruption charges and experts said he hopes the Moscow visit would increase his chances of success on election day.

“Our military together with Syrian partners found the place of his burial,” Putin said of Baumel.

“We are very happy that he will be able to receive the right military honours in his homeland.”

Netanyahu said Baumel would be laid to rest at a “very moving” ceremony in Israel later Thursday.

“Zachary’s friends and family will take part,” he said, adding that his family had been “very touched”.

“His father is no longer alive, unfortunately,” he added. “His mother is around 100 years old. Zachary also has a sister.”

Neither Putin nor Israel have given details on how or where the remains were found.

Putin said only that Syria — with which Israel has technically been at war — participated in the operation.

‘Risking their lives’
Netanyahu’s spokesman posted photographs on Twitter showing a ceremony in the Russian defence ministry handing over the remains to Netanyahu on Thursday.

“Russia has handed over to Israel the remains of a member of a tank battalion, Zachary Baumel, missing for over 37 years,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Israeli army had announced Wednesday that the body had already been recovered and returned to the country.

According to translated comments published on the Kremlin website, Netanyahu said “Russian fighters, risking their lives, brought Zachary’s remains to Israeli territory.”

But Putin said Thursday: “The remains are with us and, in accordance to military tradition, we will send them to Israel with your participation.”

Putin said “it was not easy” for Russian special forces to find the remains. He added that “all the necessary genetic tests have been completed”.

He said he valued Netanyahu’s “attitude to the memory of Red Army soldiers”, adding that Baumel shared the same fate as thousands of Soviet soldiers who went missing during World War II.

‘We will not forget this’
Baumel, who was born in the US in 1960 but immigrated to Israel, had been missing since what is known as the Battle of Sultan Yacoub in a Lebanese village of the same name near the Syrian border. Some 20 Israeli soldiers were killed in the fight.

Tank driver Baumel and two other soldiers, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz, had been listed as missing and presumed dead. The other two remain missing.

Netanyahu said he asked Putin two years ago to help in the search for the remains of the missing men.

“You personally responded and gave the order to help in this holy deed,” he said, thanking the Russian leader.

“We will not forget this act, it will go down in history.”

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 neighbours since the state of Israel was established in 1948.


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