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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Yarmouk militants dug up graves to find Israelis, say officials

Pro-regime forces say that militants and rebels that controlled Yarmouk had sought to transfer the remains to Israel

Syrian soldiers patrol at the Yarmouk Camp district in south Damascus, Syria, 22 May 2018. EPA/Youssef Badawi
Syrian soldiers patrol at the Yarmouk Camp district in south Damascus, Syria, 22 May 2018. EPA/Youssef Badawi

Insurgents excavated graves in a cemetery in a refugee camp in the Syrian capital Damascus in search of the remains of three Israeli soldiers who have been missing since Israel's invasion of Lebanon 36 years ago, a Palestinian official based in Syria said.

Anwar Raja of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) – a pro-Syrian regime Palestinian militia – said the bodies of the three Israeli soldiers who have been missing since a 1982 battle in Lebanon were transferred to Syria after the incident.

Israel says that on June 11, 1982, five of its soldiers went missing in a battle near the Lebanese village of Sultan Yacoub close to the Syrian border. Several years later, two of the missing soldiers were returned alive to Israel in prisoner exchanges with Syria and the PFLP-GC. The fate of the remaining three is still unknown.

Last week, Syrian troops regained control of the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk from members of the Islamic State group after a month-long battle. Before ISIS took the camp, several insurgent groups had a presence there including Al Qaeda-linked gunmen.

Mr Raja said the insurgents' aim was to find the remains of the soldiers and transfer them to Israel. The refugee camp is home to the old Martyr's Cemetery where Palestinian fighters and commanders are buried. He said all tombs in the cemetery were excavated.

He said that Syrian security forces, while examining the belongings of gunmen being transported to northern Syria earlier this month, arrested a woman and confiscated two bags of soil she was carrying, apparently from the cemetery, and sent them to authorities for DNA analysis.

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"This demonstrates that [the insurgents] are keen to determine whether the Israeli soldiers were buried in this cemetery," he said, denying reports that the bodies were ever buried in it.

The department in charge of Israelis missing in action, or MIA, in the Israeli prime minister's office refused to comment.

Mr Raja said ISIS and other insurgents dug up the past years' graves in search of the remains.

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