Israel releases two Syrian prisoners in 'goodwill gesture'

Response to Israel receiving the remains of fallen IDF soldier Zachary Baumel; prisoners opposed repatriation.

By
April 29, 2019 03:08
3 minute read.
Quneitra

The Syrian area of Quneitra is seen in the background as an out-of-commission Israeli tank parks on a hill, near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria, in the Golan Heights.. (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)

The IDF has announced that two Syrian prisoners held in Israeli jails have been transferred to Syria via the Quneitra crossing in the Golan Heights.

Their release came after the repatriation of the remains of fallen IDF soldier Sgt. Zachary Baumel earlier this month from Syria with the help of Russia.

According to reports, the two had asked not to be returned to Syria.

One of the two prisoners released by Israel was Zidan Tuil, a resident of Khader who was jailed in Israel after being convicted of drug smuggling and was expected to be released this July.

Tuil was arrested in 2008 while crossing into Israel from Syria, carrying 13.5 kg. of heroin and one kilogram of cocaine. He was shot by Israeli troops when he was caught and has since been disabled.

He claimed during his trial that he was persecuted by Syrian authorities because he had previously cooperated with Israeli security forces.

“I have been wanted by the Syrian regime for 15 years,” he was quoted by Haaretz as saying during his trial. “They killed my brother, his wife and my nephew. Syria captured my village. There was murder and mayhem between us. I’m the person who captured a Syrian officer responsible for the front lines there [in Khader]. They captured my house and took my family.”

The other prisoner was named as Hamis Ahmed, a Fatah activist and resident of the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his role in a plot to injure or kidnap IDF soldiers.

Ahmed infiltrated into Israel from Syria by digging under the fence, carrying a hunting rifle and ammunition. The attack against an IDF base in the southern Golan Heights was supposed to take place on April 14, 2005, but he was caught by an IDF officer after reaching the military post.

According to Haaretz, which quoted Palestinian sources, when he was informed last week that he was going to be released as part of the prisoner exchange deal mediated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, he requested from security officials that he be sent to the West Bank city of Hebron to marry his partner.

On Friday, Russia’s Special Envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev said that Israel had agreed to release some of the Syrian citizens who are in Israeli jails as a goodwill gesture.

“In Russia, we are very sensitive to the search for missing and dead people, even from World War II,” Lavrentiev said in an interview with Russia’s RT broadcaster in Arabic.

“For this reason, when the decision to transfer the body was made, we thanked the Syrian side for their understanding,” he said. “But this action was not unilateral – Israel made a decision, which it will have to carry out later, to release some of the Syrian citizens who are in Israeli jails.”

The retrieval of Baumel’s body “paid off for Syria in the end,” Lavrentiev said, adding that Russia “would never act in way that contradicts Syria’s interests.”

While Israeli law stipulates that such a decision must go through the cabinet, the official said that the prisoners’ release was approved by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and the pardon was signed by President Reuven Rivlin.

The president of Israel has the authority to pardon convicted felons or to commute their sentences.

“When the matter reached the president’s desk and due to the circumstances, the Presidential Appeals Department appealed to the attorney-general’s opinion to approve the move,” Rivlin’s office said in a statement on Saturday night. “After the approval of the attorney-general, the president exercised his authority to pardon under the Basic Law: the President of the State.”


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