Netanyahu and Putin discuss fate of jailed Israeli backpacker Naama Issachar

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Naama Issachar attends an appeal hearing at the Moscow Region Court in Krasnogorsk, Russia on Dec. 19, 2019. (Artyom Geodakyan/TASS /Getty Images)

JERUSALEM (JTA) –Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin about regional developments and about the case of an American-Israeli woman jailed for drug smuggling.

“The conversation was warm and to the point and strengthened the Prime Minister’s optimism that the issue of the release of Naama Issachar is advancing towards a solution,” read a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday.

Naama Issachar, 26, was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison in October following her conviction for smuggling marijuana into the country. She had been detained since April after nine grams (less than one-third of an ounce) of marijuana were found in her luggage at the airport in Moscow where she was transiting from India to Israel.

Her initial charge of possession of cannabis, which entails a fine and a month of detention, was subsequently changed to narcotics smuggling, which carries a prison term of three to 10 years. Issachar was passing through Russia on the way home from India, causing many in Israel to question the charge of smuggling.

Issachar, born to Israeli parents, grew up in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, and also holds American citizenship. She and her parents returned to Israel when she was 16.

Putin will visit Israel next week, where he is slated to speak at the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu has previously requested that Putin pardon Issachar.

In a letter sent on Monday to Issachar, Netanyahu wrote: “The citizens of Israel are thinking of you. We do not abandon anyone to their fate and so it is in your case as well. The State of Israel and I are investing ceaseless efforts to effect your release. We are in contact with members of your family and in every conversation with them we emphasize our commitment to bringing you back home soon.”