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Body of Missing Soldier Found As Search for Another Continues

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The body of Sgt. Avi Sasportas, a soldier missing for nearly three months, was discovered Sunday morning, in the course of a search for another soldier missing since Wednesday.

Sasportas’ remains were found buried in a sandy thicket, a few miles from where he was last seen Feb. 16, waiting to hitch a ride home to Ashkelon on weekend leave.

Police pathologists said the body had been there for a considerable time.

The soldier who found it was one of thousands engaged in a massive search for another soldier, Ilan Saadon, missing since May 3, when he was last seen hitching a ride in the direction of Ashkelon.

The discovery of Sasportas raised fears that the same fate may have befallen Saadon.

Police Minister Haim Bar-Lev said, however, there was no information or evidence that the same kidnappers were involved in the two cases. “For the moment, Saadon is still classified as missing, and we are treating his case as such,” the police minister said.

According to a friend who left the same Negev army base with Saadon, the soldier picked up a ride in a car occupied by two men wearing skullcaps and the garb of Hasidic Jews.

Bar-Lev said it was not unknown for criminals, whether motivated by political or other reasons, to conceal their identity by donning Hasidic garb.

“This is a ruse which, unfortunately, the police are familiar with,” Bar-Lev said.

Several public figures, including Ronni Milo, the minister for environmental protection, urged the Israel Defense Force to consider imposing a ban on soldiers hitching rides.

They called on the government to provide free bus transportation for all soldiers, as it now does for women soldiers.

The grisly discovery confirmed the worst fears of the Sasportas family in Ashkelon. They begged the news media to leave them alone in their grief.

Sasportas’ disappearance triggered one of the largest searches in Israel’s history. For more than a week, thousands of soldiers and trained Bedouin trackers with police dogs combed the region where he was last seen on foot, while helicopters searched from the air.

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