Russia is actively searching in Syria for the remains of the late Israeli spy Eli Cohen who was executed in 1965, the Arabic digital news site Rai al-Youm reported on Saturday.
The report claims that this effort is part of the recent prison-swap deal between Syria and Israel. At the time of this writing the claim has not been verified by Israeli sources. Moreover, shortly the prisoner swap, claims were made in Arab media that Israel would fund a batch of Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccines as part of the deal, but the claims were quickly denied by Israel and Syria. During the swap, Israel returned to Syrian hands two shepherds who crossed the border, in exchange for a young woman who crossed the border from Israel to Syria, the details of which are still largely under gag order.
The search for Cohen's remains is reportedly being conducted at the Yarmouk refugee camp cemetery in south Damascus. Recently, Russian news giant RT recently released a video it says shows Eli Cohen, walking in a Damascus street. The video, unclear and no more than a few seconds in length, has generated headlines throughout the region, both in Arabic and in Hebrew. Experts attribute the interest to Cohen’s legendary status and recent Russian efforts to try and facilitate a normalization agreement between the two enemy countries.
Oraib al-Rantawi, founder and director general of the Al-Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman, points to current events as a major contributor to the great interest in the video. The video was released while in the background there are “serious actions by the Russians and by the Syrian government” to find the remains of Cohen and Israeli soldiers killed in Syria long ago, he told The Media Line.
“I hear news from my colleagues in Damascus,” he said. “Russian experts, everyday almost, digging in the Yarmouk cemetery, where it is expected his body may be buried.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Tuesday that Russian forces have been digging for more than three weeks in the cemetery at the Yarmouk refugee camp south of Damascus in search of the remains of the Israeli agent as well as Israeli soldiers.Earlier this month, the Russian military launched excavations in a Syrian cemetery at the Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Damascus in search of the remains of IDF soldiers who went missing during the First Lebanon War in 1982, Israeli news reported, citing Syrian media.
The reports indicated that Russian troops began excavating the site on February 4, presumably searching for DNA samples from grave plots on the site suspected of belonging to Israeli soldiers who have been missing for nearly 40 years.
It is unknown where the remains of Eli Cohen currently are, as the location of the grave was changed several times, with the last one done in total secrecy under the orders of then Syrian president Hafez al-Assad, the Arab media report claimed.
A man who claimed to be the son of the late Syrian president, Khaled al-Assad, contacted Israeli security services in 2019 from his current home in New Zealand and offered to provide Israel with the details of where the remains are for $1m., KAN News reported.
The claims were checked and judged to be fraudulent.The Mossad was able to retrieve Eli Cohen's wristwatch to Israel in 2018. Daniel Sonnenfeld/TheMediaLine and Tobias Siegal contributed to this report.