JERUSALEM, Feb 13 (Reuters) - The widow of an Israeli spy who was executed in Damascus over 40 years ago said on Tuesday Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had pledged to seek Turkish help to "try to win the return of his remains from Syria".
Olmert heads to Turkey on Wednesday for talks with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, and Turkish officials say Ankara has offered to mediate talks between Syria and the Jewish state.
Egyptian-born spy Eli Cohen infiltrated the Syrian government before he was discovered and hanged in 1965. The return of his body would be seen as significant and could potentially kick-start stalled peace talks between the two countries. Cohen's 71-year-old widow, Nadia, said Olmert told her on Tuesday he would raise the issue during his meetings in Turkey. Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisin declined to comment.
"Eli has already paid the full price and we have also served our punishment," Cohen told Reuters. "Syria has to give us Eli's body to be buried in our country. It will instil confidence." Secular but Muslim Turkey is one of the few nations in the region which has cordial ties with both Israel and its arch-foe Syria. Israel has appealed in the past to Syria via European intermediaries for Cohen's body without success.
An official in Olmert's office, who declined to be named, said: "Israel sees it as a humanitarian issue ... and if Turkey could help that would be wonderful." Syrian officials were not immediately available for comment. Olmert said during talks with Erdogan, "the issue was raised" over retrieving the remains from Syria of an Israeli spy who was executed in Damascus over 40 years ago.
Egyptian-born spy Eli Cohen infiltrated the highest levels of the Syrian government before he was discovered and hanged in public in 1965. The return of his body would be seen as a significant goodwill gesture in Israel. It has appealed to Syria via European intermediaries for Cohen's body without success. But Olmert told reporters at a briefing in Ankara that Cohen was a "humanitarian issue".