The Russian military began searches in a cemetery near a Palestinian refugee camp outside Damascus, in attempts to locate remains of two Israeli soldiers missing since 1982, Syrian media reported this week.
Tzvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz went missing in the 1982 First Lebanon War’s battle of Sultan Yacoub, along with Zachary Baumel, whose remains were recovered and returned to Israel in 2019.
The Yarmouk refugee camp, home to one of the largest Palestinian refugee communities in Syria and the site of the remains of Baumel, was once again being searched for remains by the Russian military, the Syrian Capital Voice site reported Thursday. The unverified report said the search would include DNA testing.
The cemetery area was designated a closed military zone as Russian forces conducted the search operations, the report stated.
Reports of the activity were picked up on Saturday by Hebrew media, which speculated that if the remains of Feldman and Katz are located, they would be returned to Israel, by virtue of Russia’s relationship with the Jewish state.
The battle of Sultan Yacoub, 39 years ago, was a skirmish between the IDF and Syrian army in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. It claimed the lives of 21 Israeli servicemen, and more than 30 were injured during it.
While Feldman and Katz were generally believed to have been killed in the battle, there has also been speculation and reports that they were captured by the Syrian military in Sultan Yacoub and brought to Damascus.
In 2019, Baumel’s body was returned together with the remains of at least 10 other unidentified people after a complex IDF intelligence operation and with Russian assistance. Medical examiners at the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute concluded that none of them were Feldman or Katz.
Baumel was laid to rest in Jerusalem.
In 2016, an Israeli tank lost in the battle was returned to Israel by Russia.