Man in handcuffs - illustrative.
(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
A Druse from Israel detained by Syria for allegedly spying for Israel has been released after almost 13 years in jail, according to Israeli media reports.
Berjas Awidat, 47, from Majdal Shams in the Golan, left Israel to study in Syria and disappeared after he was taken in Damascus by the Palestine division of the secret police, said Druse Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara.
“No one knew what had happened to him until a high level Israeli government official intervened in the case,” he said.
An important figure in the Israeli government handled the Berjas case for many years and twice succeeded in sending Berjas’s mother to Syria, explained Kara.
“On the first visit, she did not succeed in getting any information about her son, but on the second visit, in 2011 she finally met with her son in the Adra jail near Damascus.”
Events in Syria, the situation in the prisons and pressure from relatives and, especially, various entities connected to the case in Israel, brought the situation to the attention of Syrian authorities, which decided to release him in order to decrease tensions with the Druse community, Kara said.
Berjas, who is on his way back to Israel via Jordan, was released Monday to the Druse region of Sweida in southern Syria, Kara revealed.
Berjas still does not know why he was arrested, Kara added.
Mendi Safadi, an Israeli Druse political activist who has traveled in the region and was a childhood friend of Berjas, told The Jerusalem Post the two played together when they were kids. Asked if he thought Berjas was a spy, Safadi responded that there was no way Berjas was involved in such things.
“You have to understand that in Syria, if you work in security and you are angry at someone, you can accuse someone of being a spy and have the person arrested,” Safadi explained, adding that he doubts there was a deal for Berjas’s release.
Safadi, who has been in touch with Berjas’s family, said Berjas’s mother suffered greatly.
He indicated that he would be happy to see Berjas again when he returns to Israel.
Asked about Druse from the Golan who travel to study in Syria, Safadi explained that the Syrian government had offered free tuition and housing because it wanted to build its relationship with Golan Druse.
Safadi claimed they came away with the opposite impression, however, after living in a democracy in Israel and experiencing Syria’s dictatorship.