The Russian military has recently 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.
The reports indicated that the Russians had brought in a medical truck equipped with advanced tools for analyzing DNA, while closing the entire area of the cemetery and declaring it a closed military zone.
If the reports are accurate, it may mean that the bodies of Israeli soldiers Tzvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz will finally be returned to Israel. The two soldiers participated in the First Lebanon War and have been considered missing in action since 1982.
Feldman and Katz were members of Sgt. Zachary Baumel's military unit and fought together in the Battle of Sultan Yacub between Israel and Syria in June 1982. The battle took place in Lebanon, near the Syrian border.
Following the battle that lasted several hours, six soldiers were declared missing in action. Later, it became clear that two of the six were captured by the Syrian army and one was killed in action. The fate of the other three – Feldman, Katz and Baumel – remained unknown.
That changed in April 2019, when Baumel's body was finally returned to Israel after nearly 37 years. He was identified by his DNA at the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute and buried in a special ceremony on Mount Herzl attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.
Baumel's body was retrieved after an ongoing operation by Israeli, Russian and Syrian agencies managed to locate and excavate the remains from an area then controlled by the Islamic State.