Israel’s military says it has recovered the remains of an Israeli soldier missing since the 1982 war in Lebanon.
The body of Sergeant First Class Zachary Baumel, a US-born tank commander, was flown back to Israel on an El Al plane a few days ago.
He was one of three soldiers still listed as missing in action since the Battle of Sultan Yakoub.
Sgt Baumel’s remains were repatriated via third country after an operation by Israeli intelligence agencies.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) provided no further details, but Israel’s Channel 13 television reported that Russia had been involved.
Last September, a Russian military spokesman Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov said Israel had “appealed to Russia with a request for help finding the remains of Israeli servicemen located at specific co-ordinates in Syria” and that a “search was organised after Russia agreed to the operation with our Syrian partners”.
Russia is supporting forces loyal to Syria’s government in the country’s civil war.
Five Israeli soldiers went missing in the Battle of Sultan Yacoub between Israeli and Syrian forces on 11 June 1982 in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
Several years later, two of the captured soldiers were returned alive in prisoner exchanges with Syria and the allied Palestinian group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
Sgt Baumel and two other sergeants – Yehuda Katz and Zvi Feldman – remained unaccounted for despite the efforts of the Israeli authorities to locate them.
There have been many conflicting reports regarding the whereabouts and condition of the three men over the past 36 years. Some said they might have survived the fighting and been captured.
But an Israeli newspaper reported last year that their bodies were believed to be buried in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, in southern Damascus, which Syrian troops recaptured from Islamic State (IS) militants that May.
“Today, we are lifting the uncertainty and closing a circle,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised statement on Wednesday.
“This is one of the most emotional moments I have experienced in all my years as prime minister,” he added. “This operation is the result of major diplomatic efforts that we will speak about one day.”
IDF chief of staff Lt Gen Aviv Kochavi said: “On the shoulders of IDF commanders, whom I lead, there is a great obligation to take care of every soldier who joins the IDF and swears allegiance to Israel.
“This was a multi-year effort… during which various studies and operations were carried out to locate the missing persons. The culmination of the effort was a series of operations led by the intelligence branch, which led to the identification and return of Sgt Baumel.”
IDF spokesman Lt Col Jonathan Conricus said forensic tests might be able to establish whether Sgt Baumel had died in battle or under other circumstances.