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January 22, 2020 11:38 am

Putin to Meet With Mother of Young Israeli-American Woman Jailed in Russia

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Israel, the uncle of Naama Issachar, shows a photo of Naama on his mobile phone next to a newspaper with an article about her at his home in Rehovot, Israel, Oct. 13, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Amir Cohen.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet on Thursday with the mother of a young Israeli-American woman imprisoned in his country.

Naama Issachar, 26, was arrested at a Moscow airport last April after she was found to be in possession of a negligible amount of cannabis during a stopover on the way home to Israel from a trip to India. She was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for drug smuggling, a charge she denies.

It is widely believed that political reasons were behind her heavy sentence, and a campaign is underway to free her.

According to a report published on Wednesday by the Israeli news site Mako, citing a Kremlin official quoted by the Russian news site Vedomosti, Naama’s mother Yafa will join Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.

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The meeting will also include the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, who will mediate between the parties. It was revealed that the Patriarch had passed a letter from Yafa to Putin and the president agreed to sit down with her during his visit to Israel for a Holocaust memorial event this week.

Vedomosti also quoted Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov as saying, “Netanyahu repeatedly asked about her release and (Israeli President) Rivlin has sent a letter. The humanitarian aspect of the issue will be discussed at the meeting.”

On Tuesday, Russia’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, expressed optimism about the possibility that Putin would pardon Naama, saying, “I think that’s definitely the direction, but I don’t know and can’t say at what time or which day it will happen.”

“The mood and feeling are positive,” he added. “I think we are finally nearing the end. We went through a very difficult time.”

Last Thursday, Netanyahu announced that he had discussed Naama’s potential release in a telephone call with Putin that was “warm and to the point” and “strengthened the prime minister’s optimism that the issue of the release of Naama Issachar is advancing towards a solution.”

It seems clear, however, that Israel will likely be forced to pay a diplomatic price for Issachar’s freedom. Mako cited Israeli officials as saying that Netanyahu would be asked to use this week’s Holocaust commemorations to emphasize the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazi Germany.

Israel might also be forced to cede certain properties in Jerusalem to Russia, which has long sought such concessions.

Other gestures could include easing restrictions on Russian tourism, reducing Israel’s air strikes in Syria and perhaps the release of unnamed prisoners being held in Israeli jails.

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