Russia is mediating a prisoner exchange between Israel and Iran that would see the release of dual Israeli-Russian citizen Elizabeth Tsurkov, according to a report in Kan News.
The Iran-backed Shi’ite militia Kata’ib Hezbollah is holding Tsurkov hostage in Iraq. The Kan News report said that sources in the militia told the Arabic-language international newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that negotiations are taking place for her release.
It was revealed in late June that Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency had captured the Iranian head of a hit squad planning to kill Israelis in Cyprus. The operation took place on Iranian soil and resulted in the abduction of Yusef Shahabazi Abbasalilu and the thwarting of the plot.
Following Abbasalilu’s capture, Russian-mediated negotiations began between Israel and Iran for his release in exchange for Tsurkov.
Tsurkov, 36, a Princeton University doctoral candidate and non-resident fellow at the Washington think tank New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy, has been missing for four months.
“Elizabeth Tsurkov is still alive, and we hold Iraq responsible for her safety and well-being,” the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement last week.
“The matter is being handled by the relevant parties in the State of Israel out of concern for Elizabeth Tsurkov’s security,” it added.
Tsurkov had been in Iraq, using her Russian passport, to conduct research for her doctorate.
Over the weekend, Arab media published what they claimed was the last known footage of Tsurkov before she was reported missing.
Kata’ib Hezbollah, or the Hezbollah Brigades, is an Iranian-sponsored Shi’ite militia that operates in both Iraq and Syria. As part of the Popular Mobilization Forces, the group has conducted countless attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, leading Washington to designate it as a foreign terrorist organization in 2009.