Netanyahu, in Moscow, thanks Putin for help in return of soldier’s body

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an Honor Guard ceremony for the remains of missing Israeli soldier Zachary Baumel at the Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow on April 4, 2019. Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for his help in this week’s return of the remains of missing Israeli soldier Zachary Baumel.

In remarks at the Kremlin, Netanyahu said the Russian leader acted “personally” in helping Israel recover Baumel’s remains in what is believed to have been Islamic State-held territory in Syria. Baumel, also an American citizen, was believed killed in a 1982 battle with Syrian forces in Lebanon.

Netanyahu called finding and recovering fallen soldiers a “common value.”

“I would like to thank you, my friend, for myself and for the people of Israel, for what you have done, for the brave friendship between us, which is very important for our country and is very important for the relations between us. But I think that here it is on a higher level and has expressed a great common value that unites our two peoples. I would like to thank you on behalf of the entire people of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu announced his trip to Moscow on Tuesday, a day after the two leaders spoke by phone about what the Prime Minister’s Office called “regional issues,” said to be about Syria.

Arabic-language media is reporting that Baumel’s remains were first uncovered by Syrian militants in the Yarmouk refugee camp outside Damascus. The operation to retrieve the remains, which began two years ago with the help of  Russian intelligence, was dubbed Operation Bittersweet Song.

Following their meeting, Putin and Netanyahu attended an official Russian Defense Ministry honor guard ceremony at which the prime minister received the Baumel’s additional personal effects in an Israeli flag-draped coffin.

Netanyahu was set to accompany the coffin back to Israel for Baumel’s funeral scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday in Israel.