Israel’s Nationwide Middle for Forensic Medication has examined skeletal stays for many years.

Tel Aviv, Israel: 

For many years, Israel’s Nationwide Middle for Forensic Medication has examined skeletal stays secreted throughout its northern border, checking whether or not the DNA matched that of Israeli troopers lacking in motion behind enemy strains in Lebanon or Syria.

“On occasion they’d convey the samples,” mentioned Chen Kugel, the pinnacle of the forensics heart. “It is physique stays. It is bones. It was all the time: perhaps this time, perhaps this time, perhaps this time.”

There was by no means a match.

Then, earlier this yr, a bag of bones arrived, and from the second it was opened, it appeared promising. The employees quickly decided that the bones belonged to Employees Sgt. Zachary Baumel, who had gone lacking in Lebanon 37 years in the past.

Baumel’s physique had been recovered from a cemetery in a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus, nonetheless enemy territory since Israel and Syria stay in a state of conflict.

Israel’s Nationwide Middle for Forensic Medication obtained a bag of bones this yr. They have been discovered to belong to the soldier.

Residents of the camp had grown up listening to rumors that the our bodies of lacking Israeli troopers have been hidden among the many tombstones, however the actual whereabouts of their stays have been a carefully held secret.

Digging started within the cemetery as early as 2013, residents mentioned in interviews, and over time insurgent teams and Islamic State militants all raced to search out what could be a extremely prized bargaining chip within the context of Syria’s chaotic civil conflict. Israeli officers lengthy watched the shifting dynamics of that conflict, ready for a second after they may have the ability to retrieve any of their fallen troopers.

Ultimately, Russian troops, which had intervened within the conflict to assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, obtained Baumel’s physique, they usually returned it to Israel.

However the search isn’t completed. Syrian opposition activists mentioned in interviews that Russian and Syrian troopers are persevering with to dig within the cemetery, trying to find the our bodies of two different Israeli troopers who went lacking alongside Baumel. Nevertheless, an official near the regime mentioned the troopers have been defending the graveyard, slightly than excavating it. The Russian embassy in Tel Aviv declined to remark.

Israeli and Syrian forces clashed in June 1982 in the course of the Battle of Sultan Yacoub in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, and Israeli troops had invaded Lebanon simply days earlier, concentrating on the presence of the Palestine Liberation Group.

Baumel, an American Israeli born in Brooklyn, was driving a tank when his unit was attacked by Syrian forces. The tank was struck, and Baumel and his crew leaped from the burning automobile, solely to return below hearth.

Baumel was later declared lacking, together with 5 comrades.


“On occasion they’d convey the samples,” mentioned Chen Kugel, the pinnacle of the forensics heart.

Dean Brelis, a reporter for Time, later mentioned he had seen a number of Israeli troopers paraded by Damascus together with their captured tank. They got here to cease exterior the headquarters of the Protection Brigade Commandos, an elite power headed by Rifaat al-Assad, the brother of Syria’s president on the time. Photos taken of the parade, nonetheless, have been too grainy for a constructive identification of any Israelis.

One of many crew, Employees Sgt. Ariel Lieberman, who was captured by Syrian forces a day after the battle, was launched in a prisoner alternate two years later. In 1985, two Israeli captives from the conflict, together with Baumel’s tank commander Hezi Shai, have been launched in one other alternate with the Widespread Entrance for the Liberation of Palestine – Common Command, a Palestinian militant group near the Syrian authorities. The physique of one other tank commander within the unit was additionally finally turned over.

Even Baumel’s tank was finally returned. It had been handed over by the Syrians to Russia, which had put it on show on the Moscow Tank Museum earlier than Russian President Vladimir Putin granted the request of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and returned it in 2016.

However there was no signal of Baumel and his comrades cannon loader Zvi Feldman and Cpl. Yehuda Katz.

Palestinians dwelling within the Yarmouk refugee camp, the place tents had lengthy been changed by tightly packed cinder-block buildings, might need dismissed the rumors of buried Israeli our bodies as simply that. However a couple of decade in the past, the residents began receiving nameless calls and textual content messages, broadly believed to be from Israeli intelligence, providing rewards for details about the corpses. Camp residents grew satisfied the our bodies have been within the cemetery someplace.

Everybody knew it, everybody,” mentioned Thaer al-Sahli, a poet and filmmaker who fled Yarmouk for the Netherlands in 2014.


Forensic consultants are checking whether or not the DNA matched that of Israeli troopers lacking in motion behind enemy strains in Lebanon or Syria.

However the place precisely the our bodies have been buried was a secret carefully held by senior members of the Palestinian militant factions in control of the camp, the PFLP-GC and Fatah.

As Syria slid into civil conflict in 2011, management of the camp shifted to Syrian rebels and Palestinian teams combating in opposition to Assad’s authorities.

Though Netanyahu has mentioned he put in a request to Russia to retrieve the our bodies in 2017, Yarmouk residents say Israel had turned to Syrian insurgent teams for assist a lot sooner than that, the residents mentioned.

In 2013, one insurgent group dug a gap close to the doorway to the cemetery, three residents recalled. The rebels claimed to be trying to find outdated weapons hidden within the 1980s, however not all have been satisfied. Then, when Islamic State militants stormed the Yarmouk camp in 2015, they have been little doubt conscious that the graveyard contained a beneficial prize.

“They have been digging between the tombstones for fairly some time,” mentioned one resident, who spoke on the situation of anonymity for safety causes. One other resident mentioned the militants used the excuse of smashing heathen tombstones to look the grounds.

Through the years, the Russian troop presence had been constructing, turning the tide of conflict in opposition to the Syrian rebels, and Israel sought out Moscow’s assist. Throughout negotiations over the give up and withdrawal of the rebels, the Russians in flip requested these opposition forces final yr to assist retrieve one thing from the cemetery, in keeping with an individual with data of the talks.

“It was a race in opposition to time, a contest between ISIS, which was nonetheless on the lookout for these corpses, and the Russians who additionally needed to have these corpses,” this individual mentioned. “That is why they demanded the assist of the opposition to get in and get out.”

Russia later revealed that it launched an operation into Islamic State territory round that point in an effort to retrieve Israeli our bodies. The Russian ministry of protection mentioned Israel had supplied particular coordinates, however the operation didn’t succeed. The Russian troops got here below assault, and a Russian particular forces soldier was injured.

Lastly, in an effort dubbed Operation Bittersweet Tune by Israel, Baumel’s physique was efficiently introduced again. Israel and Russia have launched few particulars in regards to the mission nor disclosed how the stays have been transferred to Israel. However an Israeli army official, who spoke on the situation of anonymity as a result of the knowledge has not been formally launched, confirmed his physique was retrieved from Yarmouk. Putin mentioned it was pulled off with “Syrian companions.”

The dilapidated look of the squat, three-story constructing set again from the street in Tel Aviv belies its central function in Israel’s efforts to get well its conflict useless. It’s the solely forensic heart in Israel.


The forensics heart in contrast the stays with a database of DNA from family of these lacking.

The middle had beforehand obtained samples suspected to be from Man Hever, a soldier who went lacking after strolling off his base within the Golan Heights in 1997, however they weren’t. Nor was there a match for a number of different samples thought to belong to Ron Arad, a pilot who went lacking in 1986 after ejecting from his airplane throughout a bombing mission over southern Lebanon.

When the baggage from Yarmouk lastly arrived, they have been opened in a basement room. “One of many our bodies was very dramatic,” recalled Kugel. “After cleansing after all, we noticed the soles of the footwear with printing in Hebrew. We noticed the army overalls, with Hebrew on the again, so we understood it is likely to be somebody that we have been on the lookout for.”

The forensics heart in contrast the stays with a database of DNA from family of these lacking and located a match. When the affirmation got here, a number of the officers accompanying the physique cried, Kugel mentioned. “In Israeli tradition it is essential to point out that we glance after the troopers and convey them residence,” he mentioned.

The forensics heart wouldn’t disclose how and when Baumel died. However Haim Cohen, a forensic anthropologist, mentioned there was no signal of him being shot. He suffered blunt power trauma to the pelvis and the hand. The harm to the hand was across the time of dying, he mentioned.

A inexperienced residue on the bones indicated he had been buried in a metallic coffin.

Baumel was lastly laid to relaxation in a army funeral in Jerusalem in April.

Palestinians within the Yarmouk camp have traded accusations over who betrayed the situation of Baumel’s physique to the Russians.

The Fatah get together, which had a historic function overseeing the cemetery, has denied revealing the knowledge. Anwar Raja, the senior commander in Yarmouk of the rival PFLP-GC group, additionally mentioned it was not concerned within the retrieval of the our bodies.

“The Russians themselves bought in and bought them out,” Raja mentioned. He added that the Russians had taken away about 10 our bodies.

Israel mentioned it didn’t make a deal in alternate for the our bodies however in a gesture of goodwill launched two Syrian prisoners.

On the forensics heart in Tel Aviv, the employees examined all of the stays that have been supplied however with out making another matches. Many of the Syrian bones have been taken away by the Israeli army, in keeping with the employees, although one remained on a current day.

“From Syria, not Baumel,” defined Nurit Bubil, selecting up a big thigh bone from the counter of her DNA testing laboratory. The army would quickly come and gather it, she mentioned.

Lt. Gen. Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israeli army, mentioned the unidentified our bodies have been more likely to be Palestinian and could be buried in a “terrorist graveyard” of unmarked graves in an undisclosed location.

For Palestinian refugees from Yarmouk, the excavation of their cemetery, now pillaged and badly broken, is the newest in a protracted sequence of painful episodes. They’ve referred to as on Israel to return these stays that don’t match lacking Israelis.

“It’s a matter of dignity for us, Yarmouk graveyard. Our leaders are there, our sons,” mentioned al-Sahli. “They took these our bodies with no respect. These our bodies ought to stay with their households, similar to these of Baumel and the opposite troopers.”

(Apart from the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV employees and is revealed from a syndicated feed.)

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