Israel on Friday released two prisoners, including one jailed for spying for Syria, in what it called a goodwill gesture for the Russian-assisted repatriation of the body of a long-missing Israeli soldier last year.
Russia, a key ally of Syria, in April handed Israel the remains and personal effects of Zachary Baumel, who was declared missing in action along with two other Israeli soldiers following a 1982 tank battle with Syrian forces in Lebanon.
Israel’s prime minister’s office said the two men released are from Majdal Shams, a Druze village in Golan Heights territory Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed in a move not recognized internationally.
Sidqi al-Maqt was jailed in 2015 “for treason and espionage, support for terrorism and contact with a hostile organization”, and Amal Abu Saleh the same year “for killing a Syrian civilian”, Israel’s Prisons Service said in a statement.
Maqt, 53, had been sentenced to 11 years in prison for spying for the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Prisons Service spokeswoman said.
Both men were released “before the end of their imprisonment” in coordination with the Israeli military, the statement said.
The move follows Israel’s release in April of two Syrian prisoners, which it also called a goodwill gesture for the return of Baumel’s body after it was discovered by Russian special forces in Syria.