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Israeli civilian returned after crossing into Lebanon earlier this month — IDF

Many details of the case still unknown or classified, including why the Arab Israeli man decided to cross the border

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

An Israeli soldier opens the gates of the Rosh Hanikra border crossing between Israel and Lebanon in northern Israel, on October 14, 2020. (Ariel Schalit/AP)
An Israeli soldier opens the gates of the Rosh Hanikra border crossing between Israel and Lebanon in northern Israel, on October 14, 2020. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

An Israeli civilian was returned to Israel through the rarely-used Rosh Hanikra Crossing on Thursday night after he walked into Lebanon several weeks ago, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The man, an Arab Israeli youth in his 20s from a Bedouin village in the Negev, crossed into Lebanon in the beginning of the month, he said, but refused to specify on what date or where he crossed the border.

It was not immediately clear why he traveled to Lebanon, though the IDF said he appeared to have done so “willingly and knowingly.” The man, whose name has not been released, has a history of mental health issues, as well as a criminal record.

According to IDF Spokesperson Ran Kochav, the man was detained in Lebanon for several weeks as Israeli defense and diplomatic officials worked to get him returned. He refused to comment on who was holding the man in custody in Lebanon — the government or the Hezbollah terror group.

To not interfere with the negotiations, the case was kept secret until the man was returned.

The talks were complicated by the fact that Israel and Lebanon do not maintain normalized ties and generally only communicate through third parties — either the United States or the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, a peacekeeping outfit that operates on both sides of the border.

“This was a very sensitive issue,” Kochav said.

The Israeli man was escorted back by UNIFIL through the Rosh Hanikra Crossing, one of the few crossing points between Israel and Lebanon.

Upon his return to Israel, he was handed over to the Shin Bet security service for questioning.

Many details of the case remain classified due to the sensitive nature of Israel’s relationship with Lebanon.

In February, an Israeli woman crossed the border into Syria, sparking a frenzied international effort to get her returned.

The woman was returned to Israel via Russia on February 19, in a deal brokered by Moscow. As part of the deal, Israel released several Syrian nationals in its custody and reportedly financed the purchase of $1.2 million worth of Russian-made COVID-19 vaccines for Syrian use.

The woman, whose identity is still barred from publication, reportedly suffered from mental illness in the past.

After the woman was returned, she reportedly told Israeli investigators that she was “seeking adventure.”

She was sentenced to eight months in prison for illegally crossing the border.

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