Putin to meet mother of US-Israeli woman jailed in Russia

Moscow (AFP) –


Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to meet with the mother of a US-Israeli woman jailed in Moscow on drug charges, a Kremlin aide said Wednesday, as the case has led to protests in Israel.

The Russian leader will meet Yaffa Issachar, the mother of Naama Issachar, while visiting Israel on Thursday, Putin's foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov, said.

The meeting will also include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem, who have both petitioned for the 26-year-old woman's freedom.

"The humanitarian aspect of this case will be discussed at the meeting," Ushakov told journalists.

Issachar was caught with nine grams of cannabis in her checked luggage while transiting from India to Israel at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport last April.

She was convicted in October and jailed for seven-and-a-half years after a court outside Moscow found her guilty of smuggling a "significant amount" of drugs.

The case has sparked outrage in Israel, where the foreign ministry has called the verdict "harsh and disproportionate" while Israeli President Reuven Rivlin appealed to Putin's "mercy and compassion," seeking his intervention in the case.

Issachar's appeal was rejected in December. Initial reports speculated she could be swapped for a Russian hacker in Israeli custody, but Israel's top court ruled to extradite him to the United States instead.

Israeli media this week reported that Israel is willing to relinquish Alexander's Courtyard, a piece of property in Jerusalem that is highly symbolic to the Orthodox Church, in exchange for releasing Issachar.

Ushakov on Wednesday appeared to confirm some decision on the Courtyard, calling it "a decision in line with the good relations between our countries." He declined to tie it to any negotiations over Issachar's fate.

The Alexander Courtyard in Jerusalem's Old City is a piece of land purchased around 1860 by the Palestine Orthodox Society, an organisation created by Russian tsar Alexander III.

In 1917 the Russian prince heading the society emigrated to Germany in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Russia does not recognise the organisation's current legitimacy and has sought to reclaim the property to a Moscow-administered Imperial Palestine Orthodox Society.

The Alexander Courtyard is listed by the Russian Orthodox Church as a plot of 1,433 square metres and is a major draw for Orthodox pilgrims in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu, who is facing an election on March 2, last week said he was optimistic that Issachar would be released after speaking to the Russian leader by phone.

Putin will participate in Israeli commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, taking part in an event at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre in Jerusalem along with other world dignitaries.