Russians search for long-missing IDF remains near Damascus

Russian troops are searching the cemetery at a Palestinian refugee camp for the remains of two IDF soldiers who went missing in 1982.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Russian troops are continuing to dig through the cemetery of the Yarmouk refugee camp outside the Syrian capital of Damascus searching for the remains of two Israeli soldiers who were killed in 1982 and are believed to be buried in the area, the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported Wednesday.

“More than three weeks have passed since the Russian forces started to search for the remains of two Israeli soldiers and prominent Israeli agent Eli Cohen south of the capital Damascus,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement on its website.

“The Russians continue excavating graves in al-Yarmouk camp in search of the remains,” the organization said, adding that the digging sparked resentment in the area because the Russians were seen to have “desecrated the dead with such operations” and the Syrian authorities had remained silent about the issue.

“It was assumed that the Russian side achieved results after three weeks of excavations and conducting DNA analyses of the remains exhumed from these graves,” the SOHR said.

News of the Russians first digging was reported earlier this month. In 2019, Russia helped recover and identify the remains of IDF soldier Zachary Baumel, who, along with his tank crew mates Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz, was killed in battle during the First Lebanon War.

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Katz and Feldman remain missing, and in 2018 Syrian rebels reportedly also dug up graves trying to find the bodies of the three IDF soldiers.

The Russians may also be searching for the grave of the famous Israeli spy Eli Cohen, who was executed by the Syrians in 1965 after the Mossad secret agent’s true identity was discovered while he was in Damascus. Over the years, Syria has repeatedly rejected Israeli requests to repatriate his remains.

The Russian operations near Damascus started during the incident in which an Israeli woman crossed into Syria on Feb. 1 and was eventually repatriated with Russian mediation in return for two Syrian prisoners held in Israel.