Eli Cohen's Family Takes Initiative

Greer Fay Cashman and Jerusalem Post Staff - Jerusalem Post -June 4, 2005

Daughter of slain Israeli spy Eli Cohen on Saturday confirmed a report published by the London-based al-Hayat by which Cohen's family has been trying to promote a deal in which Syria would hand over his remains in return for the release of Druze security prisoners incarcerated in Israel.

According to the report, Sophie Cohen had met 11 inmates at the Gilboa Prison and informed them about her efforts. According to Army Radio, the prisoners approved of her plan.

Cohen accused Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of failing to live up to his promises to make an effort to return the spy's remains. "He didn't find the way to bring Eli's bones back, while we have a way," she told Army Radio.

Cohen said she had asked Western officials to deliver a request to Syria's Ambassador to the United States, Imad Mustafa, to grant her permission to visit Damascus to promote her plan.

The Israel Prison Service confirmed that Cohen's daughter visited the prison last week in the framework of a new documentary film produced by Channel 10.

According to IPS officials, Cohen asked them to complain about their neglect and abandonment, most likely in an effort to promote her plan.

Last Month, Cohen's brother Maurice told The Jerusalem Post on the 40th anniversary of the Mossad spy's death that thousands of people around the world have signed a Web site petition urging Syria to send the bones of Cohen to Israel for burial.

While most of the signatories came from Israel and the US, Cohen said that some came from the Arab world, although he did not say whether any were from Syria, where Cohen was hanged in Damascus's Martyrs Square on May 18, 1965.

The Mossad marked the anniversary with a memorial ceremony; it also dedicated a building and a sculpture in Cohen's name. "It was a proud moment, and very moving," said his widow Nadia, "but nonetheless, I sat and cried."

Maurice, who will be 79 next month and recently underwent complicated surgery, renewed the family's plea to Syrian President Bashar Assad to hand over his brother's remains.

"I don't have much time left," he said. "I want a grave and a tombstone for my brother in Israel. I want to be able to say kaddish for him."

He said he understood it might be uncomfortable for Assad to have the bones transferred directly across the border but, he pointed out, there were always third-party options.

He said Assad was missing a major opportunity to take a symbolic step toward peace. "I think the Syrian people would like to have peace," he said.

Cohen's widow Nadia said the family had made a video appealing directly not only to the Syrian president, but also to his wife Asma. It was delivered to Damascus, but evidently to no avail.

Nadia said she appreciated that President Moshe Katsav and other Israeli dignitaries were using their individual and collective influence with world leaders to put pressure on Assad, but said she was close to giving up hope.

Katsav told the Post there was "no valid reason for the Syrians to refuse to return Eli Cohen's remains... For humanitarian reasons, his family should be able to bury him in Israel."