Syrian forces recently dug up a graveyard near Damascus recaptured from ISIS. According to a Palestinian source in Syria, the forces’ aim was to locate the bodies of three Israeli soldiers who have been MIA since 1982.

A Syrian refugee camp such as the one is where the cemetery was dug up

A Syrian refugee camp such as the one is where the cemetery was dug up

On June 11, 1982, five IDF soldiers engaged in a battle near the village of Sultan Yacoub in Lebanon, near the Syrian border, and were taken prisoner. The five were presumed to have been transported to nearby Syria. Two of these soldiers were subsequently traded to Israel during a prisoner swap with Syria, but the three others’ fate remains unknown.

Their official status since 1982 has remained missing in action. Then, early in May 2018, a woman arrested by Syrian security forces was found carrying two bags of soil from a graveyard near Damascus. The bags of soil were sent to a lab for DNA analysis, prompting Syrian forces to search the graveyard for the possible remains of the three missing Israeli soldiers.

Anwar Raja, an official of the Palestinian Front, claimed that the forces that proceeded to dig up all the graves in the cemetery did so in the hopes of finding the bodies of the soldiers. It can be presumed from Raja’s comments that the search for the bodies was done with the intent of returning them to Israel. Still, it remains unclear whether the bodies were intended to be given back to Israel or traded for Palestinian prisoners. In the past, Syria has been able to negotiate the trade of the bodies of Israeli soldiers for living Syrian prisoners. In Jewish tradition, the bodies of deceased Jewish people must be buried according to specific restrictions.

The cemetery that was upheaved was a marty’s cemetery, which housed the bodies of Palestinian terrorists who died either in combat or in suicide attacks. Also, according to Raja, all the remaining graves in the cemetery were also dug up during the search, which came after ISIS terrorists had also searched the cemetery for the remains of the bodies. Presumably, both groups’ shared interest in locating the missing soldiers’ bodies stems from their value in exchanges with Israel for living prisoners.

In the past, some of the Israeli public have levied complaints against Israel’s prisoner exchange practices, claiming that the inequality of the exchanges has greatly increased over time. Arguing that the exchanges are a slippery slope, the result of which is the exchange of hundreds or thousands of prisoners for a single Israeli prisoner, these critics assert that more restraint is needed in agreeing to exchanges. Still, others on the left claim that Israel intentionally arrests Palestinians en masse with the intent of swapping them for Israeli prisoners.