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Did Netanyahu cut deal with Assad?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists that the release of two Syrian prisoners was merely a goodwill gesture and not a part of a deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
A freed prisoner is seen after he was released by Israel in what Damascus described as Russian-mediated reciprocation for the repatriation of the body of a long-missing Israeli soldier, at the Quneitra crossing, Syria, in this handout released by SANA on April 28, 2019. SANA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE - RC1435271320

Israel released two Syrian prisoners this week, criminal prisoner Zidan Taweel and security prisoner Ahmed Khamis, in what Jerusalem described as a “goodwill gesture” toward President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus. It was the sole decision of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made without authorization from the cabinet and carried out in utmost secrecy. In the harsh public and political criticism that followed, it was argued that the move was the second part of a secret deal that Netanyahu made with Assad under the mediation of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The first step, it was said, was the transfer of the remains of Israeli soldier Zachary Baumel to Israel just prior to the April 9 elections, winning Netanyahu brownie points from the public as a world-class statesman.

After Baumel's remains arrived in Israel, Netanyahu flew to Moscow to participate in an impressive ceremony that Putin organized for him. In the ceremony, the belongings of the Israeli soldier, considered missing for the last 37 years, were handed over to Netanyahu. Netanyahu again appeared as an important personage, a statesman able to solicit the assistance of the leaders of the world’s strongest powers.

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