Putin upbeat on Israeli woman jailed in Russia

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A demonstration in Tel Aviv last year against Russia's jailing of Naama Issachar

A demonstration in Tel Aviv last year against Russia's jailing of Naama Issachar (AFP Photo/JACK GUEZ)

Jerusalem (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday reassured the mother of an Israeli-American woman jailed in Russia on drugs charges, but stopped short of announcing her release.

Putin, among dozens of world leaders in Jerusalem to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, met Yaffa Issachar on the sideline of talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his official Jerusalem residence.

Putin said that he had sought to reassure the mother: "I told her, and I shall say it again: everything will be fine."

Her daughter Naama Issachar, 26, was arrested in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport in April as she travelled from India to Israel. Russian authorities said they found nine grammes of cannabis in her checked luggage.

Last month she lost her appeal against a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence, which Netanyahu has described as disproportionate.

Standing next to Putin, Netanyahu thanked the Russian leader for meeting the woman's mother.

"It was a very moving meeting," he said. "I thank you very much for the gesture, my friend, the president."

A smiling Yaffa Issachar later said she was "optimistic" after the encounter with Putin.

"He promised he'd return my daughter home," she told reporters.

- Naama visited in prison -

Netanyahu, who is facing an election on March 2, said last week he was optimistic that Issachar would be freed after he spoke to Putin by phone.

Russian rights ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova on Thursday visited Naama Issachar in the penal colony north of Moscow where she was sent after losing her appeal.

"According to Naama, she has no complaints regarding the conditions of her imprisonment, she has everything necessary in her cell," where she is held with three other women, a statement on the website of Moskalkova's office said.

"She has no health complaints," said the statement.

Moskalkova added that Issachar watched her mother with Putin on television which "inspired her and instilled hope in her return home soon".

The case has raised diplomatic tensions between Russia and Israel.

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

Issachar's Russian lawyer, Vadim Klyuvgant, said Putin's comments appeared to indicate she would shortly be freed.

"Based on the words of the president, we are of course assuming that she will be released soon," Russian news agency Interfax quoted him as saying.

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.

Kremlin foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov appeared on Wednesday to confirm a decision had been made on the Courtyard, calling it "a decision in line with the good relations between our countries."

He declined however to tie it to any negotiations over Issachar's fate.