The Media Line: Report: Iran, Israel in Talks on Deal To Free Abducted Academic


Report: Iran, Israel in Talks on Deal To Free Abducted Academic

Russian Israeli researcher Elizabeth Tsurkov is being held bypro-Iran militia in Iraq, Israel believes. Reports suggest theabduction was an attempt to pressure Israel to release detainedIranian operative

By Mohammad Al-Kassim/The Media Line

Regional foes Iran and Israel are holding indirect talks on anexchange dealto secure the release of an abducted RussianIsraeli academic in return for the release of an Iranian operativebeing held in Israel, the London-based, Saudi-financednewspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported on Sunday.

According to the newspaper, the talks are being undertaken by anon-Arab state, probably Russia.

The newspaper cited Iraqi sources as saying that the kidnappingof researcher Elizabeth Tsurkov in Baghdad in March was aimedat exerting pressure on Israel to revive stalled negotiations torelease an Iranian detainee under arrest in Israel. The newspapersaid the Iranian in question might be Yousef ShahbaziAbbasalilo, whom Israel announced in June it had nabbed onIranian soil for planning attacks on Israeli targets in Cyprus.

Elizabeth Tsurkov is still alive, and we hold Iraq responsiblefor her safety and well-being, the office of Israeli PrimeMinister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a statement.

The statement said that Tsurkov, a dual Russian Israeli citizendoing her doctorate in political science at Princeton Universityin the United States, entered Iraqon her Russian passport at herown initiative pursuant to work on her doctorate and academicresearch on behalf of Princeton University.

Israel has denied that Tsurkov has any connection with theMossad, Israels international intelligence agency.

Netanyahus office accused the pro-Iran Iraqi Shiite militiaKataib Hizbullah (Hizbullah Brigades) of abducting Tsurkovand holding her in Iraq. Other reports have suggested that shemight have been moved to Iran.

Iraq has made no official comment on Tsurkovs disappearance.

Israeli passport holders cannot enter Iraq, and last year Iraqpassed a law criminalizing ties with Israel. The law applies toforeigners working in Iraq and makes violations punishable bydeath or life imprisonment.

An Iraqi journalist in Baghdad, speaking on condition ofanonymity, told The Media Line there is little publicly availableinformation on the kidnapping. He said that Iraqi officials wereaware of the abduction, which took place in Baghdads upper-class Karrada neighborhood, and were following it closely.

He also said the Iraqi government had created a team to followthe case and that the Iraqi prime ministers office wassupervising the investigation. Although the team had receivedmany leads and ordered raids in Baghdad and other locations, ithad met with little success, he said.

The statement said that Tsurkov, a dual Russian Israeli citizen doing her doctorate in political science at Princeton University in the United States, entered Iraq “on her Russian passport at her own initiative pursuant to work on her doctorate and academic research on behalf of Princeton University.”

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