Israel returns body of Syrian man found off the coast last year
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Israel returns body of Syrian man found off the coast last year

Red Cross says it acted as ‘neutral mediator’ to facilitate transfer of the remains

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

The Quneitra Crossing between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights reopening after four years, on October 15, 2018. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
The Quneitra Crossing between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights reopening after four years, on October 15, 2018. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Israel transferred the remains of a Syrian national back to his country through the Quneitra border crossing in the Golan Heights on Monday after the man’s body was found off the Israeli coast last year, the Red Cross said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it served as a “neutral mediator” between Israel and Syria, which are technically still at war with one another, in order to return the man’s body to his family for burial.

“The transfer today will allow the family to finally mourn their loved one in accordance with their custom and to allow the family to know of their loved one’s location,” the ICRC said.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed that the transfer had taken place.

A Red Cross spokesperson said the body was found in Israeli waters after the man drowned at sea.

The Israel Police locate the body of a Syrian man who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea and whose remains entered Israeli territorial waters, on June 1, 2019. (Israel Police)

According to the Israel Police, the man’s body was spotted off the coast of Atlit in northern Israel by a civilian sailor, who called the police. The next day, on June 1, a police boat found the body in the waters north of Haifa’s Carmel beach.

There were no documents or other markers on the body so it was sent to a lab for identification, police said.

A DNA test was used to determine his identity, and his family was contacted, the Red Cross said. Following coordination between the two sides and the United Nations peacekeepers who serve along the border, the body was sent into Syria through the Quneitra crossing.

“We thank the authorities on both sides for their assistance in carrying out this action,” the Red Cross said.

The Quneitra crossing reopened in October 2018, after Syrian dictator Bashar Assad conquered the surrounding region. The crossing had been shuttered four years earlier after Syrian rebels took over the area near the border.

The crossing has primarily been used by the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which has helped maintain a ceasefire agreement signed between Israel and Syria following the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

The 1974 accord established a buffer zone between the two countries, with the area closest to the border becoming a full demilitarized zone, where only UNDOF and police could operate, while the rest of the buffer zone had strict limits on the number and types of military units and equipment allowed inside it.

Eventually, the border crossing is meant to allow Druze citizens and residents of Israel to visit family in Syria and for the passage of a small amount of goods between the two country, notably apples.

In the meantime, the crossing has been used solely by UNDOF troops, who patrol the area, and this past summer to send two Syrian prisoners back to their country as part of an agreement to secure the release of an IDF soldier, Zachary Baumel, whose body had remained in Syria since the 1982 First Lebanon War.

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