An Israeli-American woman jailed in Russia on drug charges landed in Israel on Thursday from Moscow on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plane after nine months in a Russian prison. Naama Issachar was freed just hours after President Vladimir Putin agreed to her release.
The young Israeli thanked journalists and supporters for waiting for her upon landing at Ben-Gruin Airport.
"Right now, all I've got to say is thank you to everyone. I'm still shocked by the whole situation," said Issachar.
The 26-year-old New Jersey-born backpacker was arrested in April at a Moscow airport, where she was transferring en route from India to Israel. She was convicted and sentenced to 7.5 years in prison over the possession of nine grams of cannabis.
Earlier, there was an emotional reunion between Naama and her mother at the Moscow airport.
Officials from the Israeli embassy in Moscow escorted Issachar to the airport, from where she and her mother took off on the plane of the prime minister, who was meeting with Putin to discuss newly unveiled U.S. peace plan for the Middle East.
“It is very moving to see you," said the prime minister to Naama and her mother. "Now we return home.”
Yaffa said she learned of her daughter’s release from the Russian press. She said that while she had pictured her daughter’s release many times, she never thought Naama would be returned to Israel by Netanyahu himself.
Putin officially pardoned Issachar on Wednesday, with the Kremlin issuing a presidential decree saying that the decision made on "humanitarian principles" was effective immediately.
A source close to the prime minister said the pardon was not part of any kind of deal with the Russian government. "The pardon is Putin’s way of paying tribute to Netanyahu," said the source. "The country wanted to solve Naama's case not only because of the mutual guarantee … but due to a desire to resolve an affair that could have damaged Israel's sensitive relations with Russia.”
Media reports, however, have suggested that the pardon deal may have been eased by promises made by the Israeli government over the ownership of a building in Jerusalem which is important to the Russian Orthodox Church. The Alexander Courtyard, situated in Jerusalem's Old City, has been contested for years and an Israeli court recently ruled in Russia's favor.
TASS news agency reported earlier this month that Israel had told Russia it had begun the legal process of handing over the building to the Russian Orthodox Church.
First published: 08:31 , 01.30.20