Israel has today released two men hailing from the occupied Golan Heights who were convicted of spying on behalf of Syria.
One of the freed men, a Druze named Sidqi Al-Maqt who originates from the northern village of Majdal Shams, was released “in accordance with a government decision and in coordination with the Israel Defense Forces,” stated the Israel Prison Service.
Al-Maqt’s release comes after he was sentenced in 2017 to 14 years in prison due to allegations of committing security offences such as spying on Israel and contacting a foreign agent. The other man, Amal Abu Salah, who also hails from Majdal Shams, was previously convicted for the killing of a Syrian citizen.
Al-Maqt was arrested for filming the alleged transfer of wounded Syrian fighters to Israel for medical treatment in 2015. That was the second time he was imprisoned by Israel for security offences, however, with the first time seeing him serve a 27-year term from which he was released in 2012.
According to a statement released by the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the release of the two prisoners is a “political gesture of goodwill” in response to Syria’s return of the remains of an Israeli soldier. The soldier, named Zachary Baumel, was one of six Israeli soldiers who were reported missing following the Sultan Yaaqub battle in Lebanon in 1982. Baumel’s remains were found and returned to Israel last year after Russian and Israeli soldiers carried out an operation in the Yarmouk refugee camp in south-west Syria.
When Baumel’s remains were returned to Israel in April last year, Al-Maqt’s family expressed their wish for him to be released, but instead two other Syrian prisoners in Israel were released – one a drug dealer, and the other a Palestinian imprisoned for reportedly planning an attack.
The release of Al-Maqt and Abu Salah was initially authorised last month, but was postponed with the case not being made public due to their insistence on returning to the Golan Heights instead of being sent to Damascus.
The case was, however, discussed in November last year, with Palestinians having told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Russia initiated the release of Al-Maqt during its talks with Israel. Haaretz was informed by sources close to those talks that the Russian military attaché met with the prisoner and told him that he would be freed on the condition that he agrees to go to Damascus rather than the Israeli occupied Golan Heights.