Putin due in Israel next week

Russia says no deal to free Israeli-American backpacker being considered

As Jerusalem hopes for breakthrough in case of Naama Issachar, jailed for 7.5 years over 10 grams of cannabis, Moscow says ‘an exchange option is not being looked at’

US-Israeli backpacker Naama Issachar, center, sits inside a glass cage during appeal hearings in a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, December 19, 2019. (Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr./AP)
US-Israeli backpacker Naama Issachar, center, sits inside a glass cage during appeal hearings in a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, December 19, 2019. (Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr./AP)

Moscow indicated Tuesday that it was not considering a deal with Jerusalem that would see an Israeli-American backpacker freed from imprisonment in Russia, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing to do everything in his power to have her released.

Issachar, 27, has been held by Russia since April when some 10 grams of cannabis were found in her luggage during a layover in Moscow. She was sentenced to seven and a half years for drug smuggling, a charge she denied, noting she had not sought to enter Russia during the stopover on her way back to Israel from India.

“As far as I know, an exchange option is not being looked at,” Moscow’s deputy foreign minister, Yevgeny Ivanov said, according to Russia’s Tass news agency.

“She was convicted on criminal charges,” Ivanov continued. “As for [Issachar’s] complaints with the European Court of Human Rights, it is the job of her attorneys. We can advise nothing about that. It is her right.”

Issachar’s case has become a cause célèbre in Israel. Netanyahu, who has touted close ties with Moscow, promised during a campaign event in December to spring Issachar from Russian prison.

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

Russian President Vladimir Putin is slated to visit Israel next week, raising hopes among some for a goodwill gesture of diplomatic breakthrough in her case.

On Friday, Israel released two Syrian prisoners in what was seen as a gesture toward Putin.

A Russian court last month rejected an appeal against Issachar’s conviction. Her mother said she would file another appeal with a higher-level court and also turn to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

On Monday, Netanyahu’s office announced he had written a letter that was delivered to Issachar.

“Our nation has always been characterized by its heritage of mutual support. We don’t leave someone behind to their fate, and that’s how it is in your case as well,” Netanyahu wrote, according to a copy of the letter distributed by his office.

“The State of Israel is investing unending efforts to bring about your freedom… we are all united in the expectation to see you soon,” Netanyahu wrote.

Issachar received the letter Sunday night, according to Netanyahu’s office, which has been in contact with her mother Yaffa.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as they prepare to deliver joint statements, after a meeting and a lunch in the Israeli leader’s Jerusalem residence, June 25, 2012. (AP/Jim Hollander, Pool/File)

Earlier this month, Yaffa Issachar appealed to President Reuven Rivlin, asking him not to host Vladimir Putin at his official residence when the Russian leader visits Israel later this month.

“It is inconceivable that you, the president of the state, will receive at the President’s Residence… the president of Russia, who is holding my daughter Naama as a political bargaining chip for extortion,” Yaffa Issachar wrote in an open letter published on Facebook.

“I would like to inform you that it is my intention to come straight from Moscow to the entrance to the President’s Residence that same evening and block with my body the entrance of the Russian president and his delegation,” said Issachar in a Facebook post, who has been in the Russian capital working to secure her daughter’s release.

Netanyahu, who has called the prison sentence “absurd,” had asked Putin to pardon her in a phone call.

Moscow has said the Russian leader would consider the request, according to Israeli officials.

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