Moscow: The body of an Israeli soldier missing since the 1982 Lebanon War has been found by the Russian and Syrian armies, President Vladimir Putin said during a meeting Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu visited Putin in Moscow five days before he is to seek a fifth term in office in a difficult election.
“Our military together with Syrian partners found the place of his burial,” Putin said, referring to Sergeant First Class Zachary Baumel.
“We are very happy that he will be able to receive the right military honours in his homeland,” Putin said, adding that Russia would send the remains to Israel.
Netanyahu said Baumel would be laid to rest in Israel Thursday evening. “There will be a very moving ceremony tonight,” he said. “Zachary’s friends and family will take part.”
Putin’s statement contradicted an earlier report by the Israeli army which announced Wednesday that the body had been recovered and returned to the country.
Neither Putin nor Israel gave details on how the remains were found.
“The remains are with us and, in accordance to military tradition, we will send them to Israel with your participation,” the Russian leader said.
“As far as I know, all the necessary genetic tests have been completed,” he added.
“For the group of special forces that was working on this, it was not easy,” Putin said.
Baumel’s case is highly sensitive for Israelis. Baumel had been missing since what is known as the Battle of Sultan Yacoub. The battle between Israeli soldiers and Syrian forces took place in a Lebanese village near the Syrian border.
In comments translated into Russian, Netanyahu said he asked Putin two years ago to “help in the search of the remains of our soldiers, including the Sergeant (Baumel).”
“You personally responded and gave the order to help in this holy deed,” he said at the Kremlin, thanking the Russian leader.
In a televised address on Wednesday, Netanyahu said the operation was “the result of major diplomatic efforts that we will speak about one day.”
The 69-year-old is running in the April 9 vote despite facing potential corruption charges. (AFP)