Druze resident of Israel freed after 12 years in Syrian prison

Bargas Awidat disappeared in Damascus in 2004; seven years later, his family learned he was serving a life sentence for ‘spying’

A man holds a Syrian flag and a poster of President Bashar Al Assad during a pro-Syrian army protest in Majdal Shams on Monday. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)
A man holds a Syrian flag and a poster of President Bashar Al Assad during a pro-Syrian army protest in Majdal Shams on Monday. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

An “Israeli spy” was released Monday after serving 12 years in Syrian prisons and is making his way back to Israel.

Bargas Awidat, 47, a Druze man from the Israeli Golan Heights village of Majdal Shams, disappeared in Syria in 2004 after going to Damascus in 2002 to study dentistry. It was only in 2011 that his family learned he had been abducted by the Assad regime’s secret police and was serving a life sentence on charges of spying for Israel.

Awidat was released to the Druze community in Sweida in southern Syria on Monday, and is on his way back to Israel via Jordan, the news site NRG reported.

Awidat belongs to a Druze community on the Golan that maintains close ties with Druze in southern Syria. Many Golan Druze are openly supportive of the Assad regime. Members of the community often travel to Syria for marriage or study and remain in contact with their extended families in the towns in the country’s south.

Bargas Awidat, alleged Israeli spy, shortly after his release from a Syrian prison after serving 12 years on espionage charges, May 2, 2016. (Facebook/Ayoub Kara)
Bargas Awidat, alleged Israeli spy, shortly after his release from a Syrian prison after serving 12 years on espionage charges, May 2, 2016. (Facebook/Ayoub Kara)

After his disappearance, concerted efforts were made to locate him, including by his mother, Said, who traveled to Syria to that end.

Only six years after he vanished did his family learn that he was in al-Adra prison in Damascus, having been kidnapped from his university dorm in 2004 by the “Palestine division” of the Syrian secret police.

The Druze Israeli politician Ayoub Kara (Likud), who serves as deputy minister for regional cooperation, helped facilitate a prison visit by Awidat’s mother in 2011.

Said Awidat, left, mother of purported Israeli spy Bargas Awidat, who was released from a Syrian prison Monday, May 2, 2016 after serving 12 years for alleged espionage. (Facebook screen capture/Ayoub Kara)
Said Awidat, left, mother of purported Israeli spy Bargas Awidat, who was released from a Syrian prison Monday, May 2, 2016 after serving 12 years for alleged espionage. (Facebook screen capture/Ayoub Kara)

Kara said in a statement Tuesday that Awidat “still doesn’t understand why he was arrested, despite the charges of espionage.”

He credited “unrelenting pressure,” including from the Israeli government, for Awidat’s release. Syrian authorities “decided to release [him] in order to lower the pressure,” he said.

Ayoub Kara (photo credit: Flash90)
Ayoub Kara (Flash90)

Awidat likely owes his release to the civil war that has ravaged the country. The Adra prison became bitterly contested territory after war broke out in 2011, leading the Damascus regime to transfer its inmates to other prisons around the country. In a bid to maintain good relations with the country’s Druze, who have taken to fielding their own militias amid the chaos, Assad transferred Druze prisoners, including Awidat, to the Sweida prison which lies in Druze territory.

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