Jailed backpacker’s mother: Putin said he’d return my daughter home

Yaffa Issachar, whose daughter Naama was sentenced in Russia to 7.5 years on drug offense, says there was no date set for a possible pardon

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Yaffa Issachar, mother of Israeli citizen Naama Issachar who is jailed in Russia for a drugs offense in Jerusalem, Jan. 23, 2020 (Aleksey Nikolskyi, Sputnik Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Yaffa Issachar, mother of Israeli citizen Naama Issachar who is jailed in Russia for a drugs offense in Jerusalem, Jan. 23, 2020 (Aleksey Nikolskyi, Sputnik Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

The mother of a US-Israeli woman jailed in Russia said Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin told her in a meeting in Jerusalem that he will return her daughter home.

Yaffa Issachar said she was smiling after the meeting because “Putin told me: ‘I’ll bring the girl home.’ Really,” she said. “Let’s wait and see, there is no date for the release.”

According to Hebrew media reports, Issachar said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told her “it won’t be much longer” until her daughter Naama was released and that the Israeli leader had been working behind the scenes.

“I’m optimistic,” she said. “He’s lovely.”

Yaffa Issachar’s comments came after Putin earlier hinted at a possible pardon for Naama, telling her that “everything will be okay.”

Issachar met with Putin and Netanyahu, amid swirling speculation that the Russian leader’s visit to Israel could include an announcement on the fate of her daughter.

Naama Issachar, 27, was sentenced by Russia to 7.5 years in prison after nearly 10 grams of marijuana was found in her luggage during a layover in a Moscow airport in April. She has denied smuggling drugs, noting she had not sought to enter Russia during the layover on her way to Israel from India, and had no access to her luggage during her brief stay in the Russian airport.

Standing alongside Netanyahu and the visibly moved Issachar, Putin told a press conference that Netanyahu’s position was clear to him and he was taking it into consideration in making a decision.

Israeli-American Naama Issachar, jailed for drug smuggling, attends her appeal hearing at the Moscow Regional Court on December 19, 2019. (Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)

As Naama’s mother smiled, Putin hinted at a possible pardon saying, “I told her and I am saying it again now, everything will be all right.”

He said that it was clear to him that Naama comes from a “good family,” and added that the Israeli-American, who is being held in a prison outside Moscow, will meet with an official in charge of human rights in Russia, but did not specify when or what the purpose of the meeting would be.

Yaffa Issachar said only that she was “optimistic” after the meeting.

Putin arrived in Israel Thursday for a one-day visit to attend the World Holocaust Forum, which this year is marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by holding a major international event.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah smile as the mother of Naama Issachar, who is imprisoned in Russia, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020, ahead of the World Holocaust Forum (HEIDI LEVINE / POOL / AFP)

The issue of Issachar’s fate has overshadowed to some degree the Holocaust commemoration, which has drawn 40-plus leaders and other top dignitaries.

Ahead of the meeting, Netanyahu commended Putin for fostering “brave” ties between the countries.

Putin later met with President Reuven Rivlin and the three then dedicated a memorial in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park to those who died during the Siege of Leningrad in World War II.

At that ceremony, the prime minister said the Soviet “sacrifice and contribution” during World War II should not be obscured, noting that millions of Soviet citizens were killed during the war.

“We mustn’t for even one second blur the sacrifice and the contribution of the former Soviet Union” in defeating “the Nazi monster,” Netanyahu said.

During their meeting, Rivlin thanked Putin for his efforts on behalf of Issachar and told the Russian leader that “in Israel we feel every [child] is our own child.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin meets Russian President Vladimir Putin at Rivlin’s residence in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Issachar has become a cause celebre in Israel, where her arrest and sentence are largely viewed as politically motivated. Netanyahu has promised the family to work for her release and has expressed hopes for securing a pardon.

Activists who have pushed for Issachar’s release have been asked in recent days to suspend their vocal campaign for fear of upending the delicate talks with Russia.

According to Hebrew media reports, Russia has asked Israel to transfer a piece of Russian Orthodox Church property near the Old City of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Kremlin, as a goodwill gesture ahead of Issachar’s release.

Russia has been demanding Israel hand over rights to Alexander’s Courtyard for over a decade, but Justice Ministry officials along with two senior Likud lawmakers who are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Yuli Edelstein and Ze’ev Elkin, have opposed the measure.

Reports have also indicated that Russia may seek strong Israeli backing for its position in a spat with Poland over responsibility for World War II, including a possible public statement from Netanyahu or Rivlin on Thursday.

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