Israeli woman held as hostage by Iran-backed militia in Iraq

Tsurkov visited Iraq on her Russian passport, “at her own initiative… on behalf of Princeton University,” Netanyahu said.

By World Israel News Staff and Associated Press

A dual Israeli-Russian academic who has been missing in Iraq for months is being held by an Iran-backed militia in Iraq, the office of Israel’s prime minister said Wednesday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Elizabeth Tsurkov, who disappeared in late March, is still alive “and we hold Iraq responsible for her safety and well-being.”

Tsurkov, whose work focuses on the Middle East, and specifically war-torn Syria, is an expert on regional affairs and has been widely quoted over the years by international media.

A senior Israeli diplomatic source said that Israel is in close contact with her family and is doing “everything it can,” to secure Tsurkov’s safe return.

She is a fellow at the Washington-based think tank New Lines Institute. Her colleague Hassan Hassan, editor in chief of New Lines Magazine, said co-workers were notified of her kidnapping in Iraq on March 29. Hassan told The Associated Press that some of her colleagues had been in touch with her just days before she went missing.

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“We could not believe the news, knowing what Iraq is like for any scholar or researcher in recent years,” he said. “But there is hope that she will be released through negotiations.”

Hassan said they they have reached out to American and foreign officials, including at Princeton University where Tsurkov is pursuing her doctorate, for assistance.

He added that they “called on the United States government to be involved in securing her release, despite her not being a U.S. national.”

Netanyahu said Tsurkov is being held by the Shiite militia Kataeb Hezbollah that is one of Iraq’s most powerful Iran-backed groups. He said Tsurkov is an academic who visited Iraq on her Russian passport, “at her own initiative pursuant to work on her doctorate and academic research on behalf of Princeton University.”

A senior official from Kataeb Hezbollah declined to comment on the matter.

Iran emerged as a major power broker in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, supporting Shiite groups and militias that have enjoyed wide influence in the country ever since.

There has been no official comment from Iraq since Tsurkov went missing. Days after her disappearance, a local website reported that an Iranian citizen who was involved in her kidnapping was detained by Iraqi authorities. It said the woman was kidnapped from Baghdad’s central neighborhood of Karradah and Iran’s embassy in the Iraqi capital is pressing for the man’s release.

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Netanyahu’s office said Tsurkov’s case is being handled by the “relevant parties in the State of Israel out of concern for Elizabeth Tsurkov’s security and well-being.”

Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy, citing the country’s hostile rhetoric, support for terrorist groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and its suspected nuclear program.