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The family of Israeli spy Eli Cohen, joined by 200 Jewish student representatives from around the world, have written a letter to Syrian President Bashar Assad calling on him to allow Cohen's remains to be buried in Israel.
Cohen spied for Israel as an undercover agent in Damascus in the 1960s, supplying key information that contributed to Israel's victory in the Six-Day War. Upon his capture by the Syrians, Israel offered to release hundreds of prisoners in exchange for his life. Syria refused, executing him on an international television broadcast.
"We're calling on Bashar Assad to show that his declared intentions are his real intentions," Sophie Cohen, daughter of the legendary spy, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday evening.
"We want to get daddy's bones," Sophie Cohen declared. "He already paid the price [when he was executed by the Syrian government]. His burial is a religious rite unconnected to this punishment."
The letter was initiated by Daniel Translateur, chairman of the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS), an umbrella organization that connects Jewish university students from around the world and represents Jewish students in various forums. It was Translateur who first approached Sophie Cohen with the idea.
"I'm happy about [Translateur's] offer, and happy that Dad's legacy and his story will be known to Jewish students all over the world," Cohen said.
The letter, signed by Translateur and 200 student representatives from 50 countries, calls on Assad, "in the name of the Jewish people around the world and those living in Israel, to implement the confidence-building humanitarian gesture of ordering the return of Eli Cohen's bones to his family in Israel," according to a preliminary copy of the letter obtained by the Post.
"We are convinced that such a step could open the way to a real peace process between Israel and Syria that will bring peace to the entire region," the letter continues.
Sophie believes the WUJS letter's premise is accurate. "[Assad] can't support terror and talk peace at the same time. [In the same way,] he can't talk to Israel and keep daddy's bones."
She also believes Israel shares part of the blame for not doing enough to bring Eli Cohen's remains to Israel. "Israel cannot continue to forget Daddy. It has to tell its soldiers that it
stands by them until the last moment, and even afterwards," she said.
Reached overseas, Nadia Cohen, Eli's wife, was cautious but hopeful. "Whenever there is hope, [for example] if Bashar Assad says something about peace, we start acting and don't sit quietly," she said.
"Until now there was silence, but now, there is his declaration that he wants to begin discussions with Israel. I don't know where it will lead, but each time I hope anew that it will work," she concluded.