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JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel on Thursday buried the remains of a soldier missing since 1982, which were recovered by Russian special forces troops in Syria.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures while speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, April 4, 2019. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
Russia handed over the remains and personal effects, including the combat uniform, of Zachary Baumel, who was 21 when he fought in Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. He was declared missing in action along with two other soldiers in the Battle of Sultan Yacoub.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his eulogy for Baumel at a military cemetery in Jerusalem, thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for his help.
“One word has been repeated among many Israelis over the past momentous day. Chills. I, too, felt chills. When I learned that Zachary was with us once again, that his remains were identified, and that we will be able pay him our last respects,” Netanyahu said.
Hours earlier the Israeli leader met in Moscow with Putin, who described how Russian and Syrian forces had located Baumel’s remains, and that it had been a difficult task.
“We are very happy that they will be able to give him the necessary military honors at home and most importantly… that his close relatives will be able to bring flowers to his grave,” Putin said in comments published by the Kremlin.
The disappearance of Baumel has long troubled Israel.
Baumel immigrated to Israel with his parents from New York in 1970. Over the years, there had been unverified reports that Baumel and two other soldiers who went missing at Sultan Yacoub might have survived the fighting and been captured.
The precise location of his remains was not disclosed, but Netanyahu said Russian soldiers had risked their lives to get them.
The recovery was welcomed by the United States, Baumel’s birthplace.
“For many years we prayed for the safe return of Zachary Baumel,” U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said on Twitter on Wednesday. “Welcome home, Zachary, and Rest in Peace.”
Netanyahu, who is campaigning for a new term ahead of elections next week, said he had asked Putin to help Israel find Baumel’s remains two years ago. Israeli commanders and intelligence agencies were in “constant contact” with the Russian army throughout, he said.
Reporting by Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch in Israel, Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Editing by Alexandra Hudson