Remains of missing IDF soldier unearthed in Yarmouk cemetery

PLFP-GC spokesman said militants found the body of Sgt.Zachary Baumel in coordination with Israeli intelligence,

SYRIAN SOLDIERS walk past damaged buildings in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus on May 22. (photo credit: OMAR SANADIKI/REUTERS)
SYRIAN SOLDIERS walk past damaged buildings in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus on May 22.
The remains of Sgt. Zachary Baumel, repatriated to Israel 37 years after he went missing during the First Lebanon War, were uncovered by militants in the Yarmouk refugee camp outside Damascus, Arabic media has reported.
Baumel’s remains were just one of the dozens of remains that were brought to Israel as part of Operation Bittersweet Song.
On Thursday Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russian troops had been the ones to locate Baumel’s remains together with Syrians forces.
According to report in Hezbollah-affiliated Al Mayadeen, Anwar Raja of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) – a pro-Syrian regime Palestinian militia– said that the remains had been transferred to Syria following the 1982 battle and the finding of the remains was done in coordination with Israeli intelligence.
Militants reportedly found Baumel’s body as they were excavating graves in the old Martyr’s Cemetery in the Yarmouk camp where Palestinian fighters had been buried earlier this month after a woman was arrested carrying two bags of soil from the cemetery.
The woman was arrested as Syrian security forces were examining the belongings of gunmen being transported to the northern part of the country and the bags were sent to authorities for DNA analysis.
The Yarmouk refugee camp was once Syria’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, with close to some 160,000 people. Syrian troops regained control of the Palestinian refugee camp in May 2018 from members of the Islamic State group after months of heavy fighting. Several other insurgent groups had been in the camp before IS took control of the area south of Damascus.
Israel’s Operation Bittersweet Song was reported to have taken two years to complete and is believed to have been made possible by Israel’s close cooperation with Russia. According to a report in Ynet News, former defense minister Avigdor Liberman had pushed for the operation to take place.
The operation, Ynet reported, was brought to a standstill in September following the downing of a Russian military aircraft during an Israeli operation.
That same month Russia claimed that its military worked with Israel on an operation to locate the remains of the fallen IDF soldiers that were in Syrian territory, which had been under the control of Islamic State.
“Israel appealed to Russia with a request for help finding the remains of Israeli servicemen located at specific coordinates in Syria. The search was organized after Russia agreed to the operation with our Syrian partners,” said Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov.
Baumel was killed during the battle of Sultan Yacoub, a skirmish between the IDF and the Syrian army, which took place on the sixth day of the First Lebanon War in June 1982 in the Bekaa Valley.
At the end of the battle, the IDF lost 20 dead and more than 30 wounded and six soldiers were missing, Sgt. Yehuda Katz, a gunner in one tank crew, and Baumel and Sgt. Zvi Feldman in another tank. Two other soldiers who went missing after the battle Ariel Lieberman, Commander Hezi Shai were returned to Israel alive in 1985 while the remains of Zohar Lipschitz was returned to Israel in 1986.
Israel has declined to say where Baumel had been buried for close to four decades.
“This was a long-term effort by the intelligence community and the Missing Persons Division during which various operational activities were carried out to locate the missing soldiers, "the military said, adding that the military is “committed to continuing the efforts to locate Sergeant Yehuda Katz, Sergeant Tzvika Feldman and all the missing soldiers and captives, and all fallen IDF soldiers whose burial places are unknown.”