MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russian soldiers, together with the Syrians, found the remains of the missing Israeli soldier who was returned to Israel Wednesday.
Putin made the remarks alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who arrived in Moscow on Thursday for a snap state visit five days before Israel holds its general election.
The Russian president told Netanyahu that he realized it was important for the family of Staff Sgt. Zachary Baumel to be able to visit his gravesite. Baumel is one of three soldiers who went missing after the Sultan Yaaqub battle in Lebanon in 1982.
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Netanyahu told Putin that he is pleased to visit Russia, and happy that Jerusalem and Moscow share the value of caring for our soldiers and ensuring they will return safely from battle. The prime minister noted that he asked Putin personally two years ago to help Israel uncover the remains of its missing soldiers, and that the Russian president accepted the request immediately.
The premier also thanked Russia of behalf of the people of Israel, adding that Russian soldiers endangered themselves in the quest to locate Baumel's body. "I would like to thank you my friend," he said, "on my behalf and on behalf of the people of Israel, for everything you have done and for our steadfast friendship which is very important for my country."
The Baumel family "was moved indescribably," Netanyahu told Putin. "They were so moved. His father has already passed away, but the mother who is almost 90 years old was very distraught. When the family came to see me and I told them of your decision and of the fact that Russian soldiers acted [to recover his body] they were stunned and asked me to convey to you their deepest gratitude."
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Netanyahu was later present in a ceremony held by the Russian Defense Ministry's honor guard. During the ceremony, items owned by Baumel were placed on display. Netanyahu commented that it was "heartwarming to see the joint value of respect and camaraderie and the important principle of leaving no man behind [being respected in the ceremony]."
For his part, Putin thanked Netanyahu for commemorating fallen Red Army soldiers and expressed his gratitude for the Israeli premier’s invitation to visit the opening of an Israeli memorial to the defenders of Leningrad.
On Wednesday, the Israeli military announced that Baumel's body has been returned via an El Al flight with the help of an unnamed third country. The retrieval of his remains was carried out in an operation by Israeli intelligence agencies, but was not part of a deal with other countries, the Israeli army added.
The two leaders last met in February in Moscow. At the time, Netanyahu told Putin that "ties between us have prevented friction between our armies and contributed to security in the region." He also recounted that this was the twelfth meeting between the two leaders since September 2015.
They discussed regional affairs, the situation in Syria and the strengthening of the security coordination.
Netanyahu said after the last meeting that getting the Iranians and all foreign fighters out of Syria is also one of Russia's stated goals. A diplomatic source added that Putin did not place limitations on Israel's actions in Syria.
Regarding Israel's actions in Syria, the diplomatic source told reporters that "the policy is that we will continue to act and it's accepted with understanding."
Referring to the downing of the Russian spy plane in Syria in September 2018, the source added that the crisis is "behind us."