Goldin family lashes Syrian prisoner release as ‘missed opportunity’

Family whose soldier son’s remains are held in Gaza says prisoners freed in ‘goodwill gesture’ should have been part of a larger exchange involving Hamas

Simcha Goldin, father of late Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin whose body is held by Hamas, speaks at a protest calling on the government to return the bodies of his son and fellow late Israeli soldier Oron Shaul outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on August 10, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Simcha Goldin, father of late Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin whose body is held by Hamas, speaks at a protest calling on the government to return the bodies of his son and fellow late Israeli soldier Oron Shaul outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on August 10, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The family of a deceased IDF soldier whose body has been held by Hamas in Gaza since the 2014 war there slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend for agreeing to release Syrian prisoners without making them part of a broader exchange that would include the remains of their son and those of another soldier, Oron Shaul.

“The reports in international media [about the Syrians’ release] break our hearts, because we learn from them that Netanyahu once again missed an opportunity to return Oron and Hadar [Goldin] as part of a broad international exchange, precisely against the backdrop of the return of Sgt. Zachary Baumel,” said a statement from Goldin’s parents, Simcha and Leah Goldin.

The two Syrian prisoners slated for release by Israel were identified Saturday as a Fatah operative jailed for an attempted attack on IDF soldiers and a drug smuggler.

Their release was described by an Israeli official as a “goodwill gesture” to Damascus following the return of the remains of Baumel, an Israeli soldier who was killed in battle in Lebanon in 1982.

Israeli soldiers carry the coffin of Zachary Baumel at the Mount Herzl Military cemetery in Jerusalem on April 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The body of tank commander Baumel, believed killed in the First Lebanon War’s Battle of Sultan Yacoub almost 37 years ago, was brought from Syria to Israel about a month ago via Russia.

At the time, a senior Israeli diplomatic official said that Russia’s assistance in the return of Baumel’s remains would not carry a “diplomatic price tag” linked to the situation in Syria.

With the revelation that the return of Baumel’s remains was understood to be the precursor for the release of two Syrians held in Israeli jails, the Goldin family lashed out at Netanyahu for “missing an opportunity” to include their son’s remains in the exchange.

“Instead of Prime Minister Netanyahu advancing effective pressure on Hamas to bring about a prisoner exchange agreement with Hamas, too, as part of the broader international exchange, he decided to sentence us to uncertainty and emotional suffering.

“We expect Netanyahu to stand by his promises to IDF soldiers and their families and return Hadar and Oron as a precondition for any arrangement with Gaza and the Arab world,” the Goldins’ Saturday night statement said.

Earlier Saturday, Israel confirmed it would release Hamis Ahmad, of the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, who was jailed in 2005 for an attempt to infiltrate Israel and attack an IDF base and sentenced to a prison term ending in 2023.

Fatah operative Hamis Ahmad (L) and drug smuggler Zidan Tweil, two Syrians set to be freed by Israel (Courtesy)

Zidan Tweil, of the Syrian village of Khader, was the second prisoner named. Tweil has been jailed since 2008 for drug smuggling and was to be freed in July.

A senior Israeli official earlier said the prisoner release would take place as a “goodwill gesture,” adding that the decision was only made in recent days, and claiming it had not been a precondition for Baumel’s return.

The Israeli statement came after Russia’s envoy to Syria announced the prisoner release, and indicated that Israel knew there would have to be a reciprocal gesture after the April 9 election.

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