Russia Advancing Deal With Israel to Free Druze Prisoner Who Spied for Syria, Palestinian Sources Say

Sudaki Al-Maqt's family members say that the Russian military attaché visited him in jail and told him Israel was willing to free him if he moves to Damascus

Druze prisoner Al-Maqt at the Nazareth District Court, 2015.
Gil Eliahu

Russia is in contact with Israel to promote the release of a Druze security prisoner from Israeli jail, sources in the Palestinian Prisoners' Club told Haaretz on Thursday.

The relatives of the prisoner in question, Suadki Al-Maqt of the northern Druze town of Majdal Shams, have said that Israel has made it clear that it is willing to release him if he moves to Damascus and doesn't return to his home in the Golan Heights.

Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bureau and the Shin Bet security service have clarified that they were not willing to comment on the case.

Al-Maqt is currently serving his 14-year prison sentence, which he received in 2017 for committing security-related crimes. At the time, he had been charged with spying and having contact with a foreign agent.

Sources familiar with Russian and Syrian efforts to release him have told Haaretz that the Russian military attaché met with Al-Maqt in prison on Thursday, and presented him with a proposed deal to free him.

The Russian attaché is said to have emphasized to Al-Maqt that Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, are familiar with his case, and that Damascus is willing to take him in.

According to the sources, Al-Maqt was told that the decision as to whether to move to Syria was up to him. His family members in Majdal Shams say that they have heard of the developments over the past couple of days, and that Al-Maqt is demanding that he be released to his home in the Golan Heights.

According to the chairman of the Palestinian Prisoners' Club, the offer was conveyed to Al-Maqt initially through officials at the Israel Prison Service in the Ketziot Prison. Later, he received the information from the Russian attaché. 

This is the second prison sentence Al-Maqt is serving for security-related offenses. In 2012 he was freed after serving 27 years behind bars. He was rearrested three years later after filming the transfer into Israel of people wounded in a battle fought by Syrian rebels against the regime. The footage he took was broadcast in a report on Syrian television.

Al-Maqt's name made headlines in April when Syria returned the remains of the late soldier Zachary Baumel to Israel with Russia's mediation.

Al-Maqt's family had hoped at the time that he would be released in return for Baumel's body, but ultimately two other Syrians were freed from Israeli prison instead. One of them was imprisoned in Israel for drug dealing, and the other, of Palestinian origin, had planned a terrorist attack and was arrested before he managed to carry it out.

Both Al-Maqt's family and residents of Druze villages in the Golan had expressed their disappointment over Israel's failure to release him. They conveyed their dismay to Assad's presidential palace in Damascus in light of the fact that Al-Maqt is known to be a major supporter of Assad.