Syria Denies Working With Russia to Retrieve Israeli Soldier's Body

Syrian army didn't know what Russian force that located Zachary Baumel's body was doing in the Yarmouk refugee camp, military source tells Lebanese daily al-Akhbar

Israeli soldiers carry the coffin of Zachary Baumel during his funeral at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem on April 4, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

Syria denied Saturday that it cooperated with Russia to retrieve the remains of the body of a missing Israeli soldier, which were brought to Israel in late March. Staff Sgt. Zachary Baumel disappeared in the Sultan Yaaqub battle in Lebanon in 1982.

A Syrian military source told the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar the Russian force that located Baumel's body entered the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, where Baumel was buried, after Nusra Front and ISIS lost control of the camp. The source was quoted as saying, however, that he did not know what the Russians were doing there.

The source told the pro-Assad paper that the Syrian military assumed the Russians were in the camp as part of their negotiations with the rebel groups to leave the area.

Zachary Baumel.
IDF Spokesperson's Unit

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The report quotes a Syrian officer who entered the camp after government forces retook it, who said troops did not notice any signs of digging in the cemetery, which was badly damaged in the fighting.

The Syrian military further said that the operation to find Baumel's body appears to have begun in May 2018, after ISIS withdrew from the territory, and was completed in recent weeks. The Syrian officer denied that there was any cooperation between Syrians and Russians in locating the body and said that the only coordination was the Russian informing the Syrian military about their presence in its territory, without providing any details of its mission.

Syrian Information Minister Imad Sara told Syrian television that the government was unaware of the presence of an Israeli body or bodies in its territory, or else it "would have acted according to its national interests."

Members of the Syrian Red Crescent help people leave the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp where loyalists of President Bashar Assad have steadily intensified a blockade to prevent food and aid from entering over the past year, on the southern edge of Damascus, Syria, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014.
AP

However, in a conversation with Haaretz, an operative in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) explained that as part of a 1985 prisoner exchange deal, in which Israel released 1,150 PFLP prisoners in exchange for three Israeli soldiers captured during the 1982 Lebanon War, it was agreed that if the bodies of the other missing soldiers were located, they would be returned at no additional cost.

The Lebanese paper further stated that the Syrian people were critical of the "Russian gift" to Israel, claiming that Russia acts only in accordance with its own interests.