Israel yesterday released two Syrian prisoners in a “goodwill gesture” after the remains of one of its soldiers missing since 1982 were returned earlier this month.
Israel’s military said the two prisoners were transferred to the Red Cross through the Quneitra crossing to Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Israel’s prison service said the prisoners were Zidan Tawil, who was convicted of drug trafficking and was due to be freed in July, and Khamis Ahmed.
It said Ahmed is a Fatah member from Yarmuk refugee camp in Syria who was originally due to be freed in 2023 after he attempted to attack an Israeli army base in 2005.
An Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity said Saturday that Israel agreed to release the prisoners as a “goodwill gesture” after the return of the remains of soldier Zachary Baumel earlier this month.
The decision was not part of a pre-arranged deal, the official said.
But there were signs of a brewing controversy in Israel as some media reported that the prisoners’ release was sanctioned by the attorney general without cabinet approval.
Israel’s military announced on April 3 that Baumel’s remains, missing since the 1982 Lebanon war, had been returned, bringing to a close a highly sensitive case for Israelis.
The announcement regarding Baumel’s remains came less than a week before hotly contested Israeli elections, which saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu win a fifth term.