Israel released two more Syrian citizens from prison on Thursday and Friday, in exchange for the body of Sgt.-Maj. Zachary Baumel, returned to Israel last year.The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed on Thursday night that it authorized the release of the two prisoners, “as a diplomatic gesture and a goodwill step, following the transfer of Zachary Baumel, of blessed memory, from Syria to Israel.”
Baumel went missing in action during the Battle of Sultan Yacoub in the 1982 Lebanon War, and his remains were returned to Israel in April with help from Russia. At the time, IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said there was no prisoner exchange, but two Syrian prisoners were released that month. The first, Amal Abu Salah, 25, was released at midnight between Thursday and Friday. The resident of the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights was serving a sentence of seven years and eight months on a manslaughter charge for killing a Syrian citizen. He was supposed to be released in 2023. This was his first time in prison.The second, Makath Sudki, is a security prisoner who was serving his fifth of 11 years in prison for treason and espionage, supporting terrorism and contact with a hostile organization. This was Sudki’s second prison sentence, after he was released in 2012 following 27 years in prison.The cabinet voted to release the prisoners in early December, but Sudki refused to be deported to Syria, preferring to remain in prison.Baumel was brought to Israel on an El Al flight on April 4, where his remains were identified by a DNA test. The IDF also recovered Baumel’s tzitzit, a ritual fringed garment worn by Jewish men, as well as his tank jumpsuit.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel “invested immense resources” in finding Baumel, and IDF intelligence’s efforts continued over the decades since he went missing.Leah and Simcha Goldin, the parents of Hadar Goldin, the soldier whose body has been held by Hamas in Gaza since 2014, said the release of two more prisoners showed Netanyahu’s failure in bringing back the remains of their son and Oron Shaul, another soldier whose body Hamas has held for more than five years, and captives Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed.“The complex agreement to return Zachary Baumel, of blessed memory, should have included Hadar, Oron, Avera and Hisham,” they said. “Those who hold Hadar are terrorists with whom Netanyahu does business every day... They are Hamas people who are enriching themselves from the billions in investments in the Gaza Strip and the terrorists to whom Netanyahu gives Qatari cash each month.”In April, the IDF released two Syrian prisoners who had been held in Israeli jails soon after the repatriation of Baumel’s remains.The two, Zidan Tuil and Hamis Ahmed, were deported to Syria via the Quneitra crossing despite reports that they had asked not to be returned to the war-torn country.Tuil, a resident of Hader, Syria, was jailed in 2008 after being convicted of drug smuggling while crossing into Israel from Syria. He was carrying 13.5 kg. of heroin and a 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.Ahmed, a Fatah activist and a resident of the Yarmouk refugee camp south of Damascus, 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. He was 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.
Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.