The body of what appears to be a Syrian soldier killed in a 1982 battle with Israel was found in eastern Lebanon, an army official said Wednesday, and a search is underway for the remains of more missing soldiers.
A man digging foundations for a house on a plot of land near the village of Mdoukha in eastern Lebanon unearthed the remains Monday night, the senior Lebanese officer said. The body was in a military uniform and helmet, and had a Syrian military identity card his pocket, the official said. Another body had been found since, the official said.
Mdoukha and the nearby village of Sultan Yacoub in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley were the site of heavy fighting in June 1982 between Israeli forces and Syrian troops and their Palestinian guerrilla allies shortly after Israel's invasion of Lebanon.
On June 11, 1982, five IDF soldiers went missing in battles near Sultan Yacoub. Several years later, two of the missing soldiers were returned alive to Israel in prisoner exchanges with Syria and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command, according to Israel's Minister of Foreign Affairs. The fate of the remaining three - Zecharia Baumel, Yehuda Katz, and Zvi Feldman - is still unknown.
On Wednesday, the Lebanese army had cordoned the area off and was searching for more remains, the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations. He said officials have already unearthed what appears to be a second set of remains nearby.
Lebanon will contact the Syrian military to determine how many soldiers are suspected missing from fighting in the area and possibly conduct DNA tests, the officer said.
'I hope he's alive'
A short while after the report came out, Perahia Hymen, Yehuda Katz' sister, spoke with representatives of the Red Cross to verify its reliability.
"These things must be checked. We have much experience with all kinds of cases. There were important reports that were downplayed and esoteric incidents that produced a lot of noise," she said. "Some things turned out to be speculations, while others were real. We will wait for the examination. We've come so far, and shall continue until we find those who went missing."
Pnina Feldman, Zvi Feldman's mother, said that the image of her son leaving the house for the last time before he disappeared is still vivid in her mind.
"Every time it brings you back and stirs up the same thoughts," she said.
"I asked him not to go and told him his father lost his entire family in the Holocaust, but he told me: 'Mother, I am only going for reserve duty.' I hope he's alive. I'm his mother, and as such I will always worry about my son," she said.
Unlike Feldman, Miriam Baumel, the mother of Zecharia Baumel, did not get excited by the reports. A year ago Baumel lost her husband, who led the missing soldiers' families' struggle.
"We don't know the details and are not aware of the complete picture; therefore it is too early to comment," She said. "We have gone through all sorts of events through the years, including the discovery of several bodies and similar things. What appears in a Lebanese newspaper without evidence or solid information is of no significance."