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Citizens wait for Netanyahu at Ben Gurion: ‘Bibi, king of Israel’

In Moscow, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet this morning for a formal briefing on President Trump’s Mideast initiative and the talks in the United States.

The meeting takes place after last night Putin signed Naama Issachar’s pardon request. At the outset, the Russian President said, “We have responded to the request for pardon for Naama. Wishing her all the best for her and her family.”

Netanyahu told Putin, “Mr. President, all our visits and talks are important. This visit signifies an even greater warming of our relationship. First, I want to congratulate you on the historical things you said on your important visit to Israel. We will all remember your exciting speech at the unveiling ceremony of the monument of Leningrad heroes. You talked about your family, your personal suffering, and the huge sacrifice of the Russian People in the war against the Nazis. Then you made another exciting speech at Yad Vashem at a ceremony marking 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz.

“Secondly, we’ve been talking about some of the things related to the region. We have had several conversations with our American friends in connection with these things and I want to update you on some developments that are out there.

“Thirdly, I want to thank you on behalf of all the people of Israel for your quick decision to grant pardon to Naama Issachar. This is something that excites us all and our gratitude is felt by all the citizens of Israel, with all our heart,” added Netanyahu.

“Mr. President, you are actually the first leader I talk to after my visit to Washington on President Trump’s Deal of the Century. I think a new and perhaps unique opportunity has been created here, and I’d like to talk to you and of course hear your insights and see how we can combine all the forces for security and peace. In any case, I must say that Russia-Israel relations are the strongest, firmest, and best ever. I want to thank you Mr. President for your personal dedication and leadership in this matter as well as in other matters,” the Prime Minister said.

Putin emphasized that “one should not forget that they found drugs in Naama’s suitcase”, and noted that a significant part of his decision to grant Naama pardon was the letter from her mother that he received from the Jerusalem Patriarch.

The El Al pilot who flew Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plane from Moscow to Israel thanked Netanyahu for his efforts to return Naama Issachar to Israel.

Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, greeted Naama in front of the cameras, along with Yaffa Issachar, after pushing for months for her release, which comes weeks before national elections in Israel.

The four then crossed the tarmac and boarded the plane without stopping to make a formal statement or answer questions from the many reporters in attendance.

“Let’s go home, let’s go home,” the prime minister said.

It was a unique event, where journalists from all major Israeli news outlets provided extensive coverage and television channels interrupted their regular broadcasts for the release of a young woman who committed a criminal offense, but whose fate — widely viewed as a disproportionate punishment — has gripped an entire nation.

Netanyahu earlier met Russian President Vladimir Putin and thanked him for his speedy decision to pardon and release Issachar.

“I want to thank you in the name of the entire Israeli people for your quick decision to grant a pardon to Naama Issachar. This moves all of us and our gratitude is on behalf of all Israeli citizens, from the heart,” Netanyahu said at the beginning of their meeting in the Kremlin.

During a whirlwind visit to the snowy Russian capital on the heels of his three-day trip to Washington, Netanyahu told Putin he also wanted to discuss “regional matters” with the Russian leader, days after the release of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.

Putin, in his remarks, expressed warm wishes for Naama Issachar and her family. He noted that she was liberated due to the efforts of her mother Yaffa, but mentioned twice that she was found carrying drugs.

“I wish her all the best for her and her family,” he said.

Earlier on Thursday, the Russian prison service formally announced that Issachar had been released.

“Due to the presidential decree on pardoning, Naama Issachar has been freed from prison,” the prison service said in a statement.

Putin pardoned Issachar on Wednesday, with the Kremlin saying a presidential decree pardoning her on “humanitarian principles” was effective immediately.

Earlier, an Israeli official said Issachar’s release was the result of a Russian goodwill gesture toward the United States, stressing that Israel did not give Moscow anything in return.

“There was no deal with Russia. Naama’s release was done as a gesture by President [Vladimir] Putin to the US,” a senior official in an inter-ministerial committee dealing with the case told reporters in Netanyahu’s entourage.