Israel is set to release two Syrians that are in its custody, as a favor to Russia for its assistance in helping with the recovery of the remains of IDF soldier Zecharia Baumel, Hy”d. An Israeli official confirmed comments made by Russian regional affairs representative Alexander Leibentreib.
The two Syrians set to be released by Israel are Zeidan Tawil, who since 2008 has been serving an 11 year sentence for drug-running – he was set to be released in three months – and Hamid Ahmad, who in 2005 illegally entered an IDF base. He was caught, arrested and convicted of spying charges, and was set to be released in 2023.
Israeli law requires that government ministers vote on the release of prisoners and terrorists in deals of this type. However, a government source told Channel 12 Motzoei Shabbos that State Attorney Avichai Mandelblit had ruled that in this situation the government did not need to be involved, as it was a temporary government, and the prisoners were not terrorists with “blood on their hands.” In a statement, a spokesperson for President Reuven Rivlin had signed off on the release of the prisoners based on Mandelblit’s ruling.
Baumel’s remains were returned to Israel just days before the recent election, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stating that the return of Baumel had been “a favor” to Israel, engineered by Russia, and was not part of a quid pro quo. In an interview with Channel 20 on election eve, he said that the charges on the left that the timing of the announcement – six days before the elections – was “cheap electioneering” by him, as Blue and White charged Wednesday, were “utter nonsense. The revelations [of Baumel’s imminent return] were determined by security issues that took place within the 48 hours before the announcement,” Netanyahu said.
A senior security source was quoted by Yediot Acharonot on Motzoei Shabbos as saying that the decision to release the two Syrians was made after Baumel’s return to Israel as an act of good will, and was not part of any deals in advance. “The issue of the release of the Syrians did not come up in advance. Israel acts in as many ways as possible to bring back its missing and imprisoned soldiers, and will continue to ensure the security of Israel,” the source said.