Israel releases two prisoners with ties to Syria


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel released two prisoners with ties to Syria in what officials said was a goodwill gesture in response to the release last year of the remains of an Israeli soldier who had been missing for more than 35 years.

The remains of Zachary Baumel, an Israeli soldier missing since the 1982 Battle of Sultan Yacoub, were returned to Israel in April from Syria via Russia. The bodies of Baumel and two other Israeli soldiers, Sgt. Yehuda Katz and Sgt. Tzvika Feldman, were believed to be held by Palestinian organizations in Syria. The remains of the other two soldiers have never been recovered.

The two prisoners were released on Friday, according to reports.

Sidqi al-Maqt, from the Druze town of Majdal Shams on the Golan Heights, was sentenced in 2017 to 14 years in prison for spying on Israeli military positions for Syria. He previously had spent 27 years in an Israeli prison for spying and had been released in 2012.

Amal Abu Salah, who also lives on the Golan Heights, was sentenced in 2015 to eight years in prison for attacking an Israeli ambulance in the Golan carrying injured Syrians to an Israeli hospital, killing one of the Syrians and injuring the other.

Israel had released two Syrian prisoners in April in what it said was a goodwill gesture following the returns of Baumel’s remains.

Friday’s releases also were believed also to be a goodwill gesture to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will visit Israel at the end of the month. Israel is working to effect the release from a Russian prison of Israeli Naama Issachar, who is serving a 7.5 year sentence in Moscow after marijuana was found in her bag as she traveled home to Israel.

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