Lebanese TV backs off claim that Israeli spy’s body will be returned
After initially saying Eli Cohen’s body was in hands of rebel group, broadcaster removes story from its website
Lebanese television on Wednesday night appeared to quietly retract its earlier report that the body of Israeli spy Eli Cohen could soon be returned by a Syrian rebel group.
The Wednesday report by the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation said that rebels from an unidentified group were prepared to hand over to Israel the body of Cohen, a spy who was publicly executed by Syria in 1965.
But some time after the initial report was made, the story was removed from the network’s website, and it was not repeated in subsequent broadcasts.
A defense official had earlier told Channel 2 that Israeli officials had not been contacted and had no knowledge at all about the matter.
The Lebanese claim came days after rare footage of Cohen’s hanging sparked renewed interest in the case in Israel.
Nadia Cohen, Eli Cohen’s widow, told the Hebrew-language Walla News website that she had not been contacted by any Israeli officials about the possibility.
“It doesn’t seem believable to me, it is as though they want to play with our emotions and continue to torture us,” she said. “If they return Eli’s bones for burial in Israel — it will be a miracle. I pray that I will get a sign that there is some truth in it.”
Cohen, a Mossad agent, was put on trial and executed for espionage after he successfully infiltrated the highest echelons of the Syrian government under the alias Kamel Amin Thaabet for four years.
The intelligence conveyed to Israel during that period was credited by then-prime minister Levi Eshkol with greatly assisting Israel’s victory during the Six Day War.
Earlier this week a two-minute video was posted on Syrian opposition forces’ social media accounts purportedly showing the aftermath of Cohen’s execution in Damascus.
The black-and-white footage shows what appears to be Cohen’s body being lowered into a coffin after he was hanged in a public square in Damascus over 51 years ago, on May 18, 1965.
His remains were not retrieved by Israel and the regime in Syria has claimed it does not know where he is buried.
Despite the fact that the video is not new, and is included in the archives of The Associated Press, the re-publication set off a stir in Israel.
Nadia Cohen said she had never seen the footage and told Channel 2 watching the video “was difficult” and that it “took me back [to those days].”