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Two prisoners released by Israel ask not to be returned to Syria

The two prisoners arrived on the Syrian side of the Quneitra border crossing Sunday [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 28 April, 2019

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Zeidan Tawil and Khamis al-Ahmad, released by Israel following the return of the remains of Israeli soldier Zachary Baumel, have asked not to return to Syria.
Two Syrian prisoners released on Sunday following the repatriation of the remains of an Israeli soldier have asked not to be returned to Syria.

One asked to be placed in Hebron where he wishes to get married, and the other said authorities will persecute him in Syria, according to Haaretz.

Israel released the two Syrian prisoners in what it says is a "goodwill gesture". It insists Sunday's release was not a quid pro quo for the return of Zachary Baumel's remains earlier this month.

Syrian state TV says the two prisoners, Zeidan Tawil and Khamis al-Ahmad, arrived on the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing after being released. The pair were arrested for drug charges and infiltration attempts. 

Baumel went missing over 35 years ago, during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Russian mediators facilitated the return of his remains shortly before this month's Israeli election.

Baumel and two other soldiers, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz, had been listed as missing since Israeli soldiers fought with Syrian forces in a battle on June 10-11, 1982 in the Lebanese village of Sultan Yacoub, near the Syrian border. 

Israel, which seized much of the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War, remains technically at war with neighbouring Syria.

US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation last month recognising Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights - a move which has been denounced as the rest of the international community has never recognised Israel's occupation of the Syrian territory.

Israel's military announced on April 3 that Baumel's remains had been returned, bringing to a close a highly sensitive case for Israelis. The announcement also came less than a week before hotly contested Israeli elections, which saw Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu win a fifth term.

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