July 15, 2024

An Iraqi television station posted a video Monday purporting to show a kidnapped Israeli-Russian researcher for the first time since her disappearance seven months ago, when she was seized off the streets in Baghdad.

The video claiming to be of the researcher, Elizabeth Tsurkov, a doctoral student at Princeton University, was shown on Al Rabiaa TV, a station that is associated with Shiite political parties. Later in the evening, three other broadcast outlets displayed the video, including the channel most closely associated with Kataib Hezbollah — an Iraqi Shiite militia linked to Iran and the group reported to be holding her.

Ms. Tsurkov was kidnapped in late March after having coffee in a Baghdad cafe. The first official disclosure of her capture came this summer when the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said she was being held by Kataib Hezbollah.

At the time of Mr. Netanyahu’s announcement in July, the Iraqi government said it was investigating her capture. No group has claimed responsibility for her kidnapping.

Ms. Tsurkov went to Iraq in January to do academic research. She holds both Israeli and Russian passports and entered the country using her Russian passport, according to the Iraqi government. Israel and Iraq do not have diplomatic relations; Iraq deems Israel a hostile state and has banned all contact with it.

In the video, Ms. Tsurkov, who speaks in Hebrew throughout, is shown alone, seated on a couch. She is dressed in black, her long hair is loose and she speaks softly but clearly. The video was shown with Arabic subtitles.

The New York Times was not able to authenticate the video, but its content makes clear that it was made after the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

In it, Ms. Tsurkov speaks directly to the families of the Israelis who are being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza and tells them — making clear that she is speaking herself as a hostage — that if they want to see their family members again, they need to stop the war.

“I ask the families of the hostages in Gaza to constantly make efforts to stop the war on Gaza, for the sake of your sons and daughters,” she said. “This war that is being stupidly run by Netanyahu through his wife, Sara, and his son, Yair, will lead to the hostages being killed. If you want your sons and daughters to return alive, the war must stop.”

In addition to the political message contained in the video, the reference to the Gaza war — which Ms. Tsurkov says she follows daily — suggests that her captors may have wanted the video to serve as proof to her family and the Israeli government that she is still alive.

The statement from Mr. Netanyahu’s office this summer said, “We hold Iraq responsible for her safety and well-being.”

Her kidnapping spotlighted a problem that Iraq’s leaders have been grappling with: Some military groups absorbed into Iraq’s security forces have stronger ties to Iran than to Iraq, and security officials say Kataib Hezbollah is the most prominent of these.

The video opens in the style of a confession, in which Ms. Tsurkov says she was working on behalf of Israeli intelligence and the C.I.A., something that her family and friends deny.

The statement from Mr. Netanyahu’s office said she was an academic who visited Iraq “at her own initiative pursuant to work on her doctorate and academic research on behalf of Princeton University.”

Ms. Tsurkov was also a fellow at the New Lines Institute for Strategy at the time of her capture. A fluent Arabic speaker, she had been researching the relationships among armed groups on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border. She had done her mandatory military service in the Israeli army, and it was during that time that she became more interested in the Arab world, and pursued graduate work first in Israel and then in the United States.

At the end of the video, Ms. Tsurkov speaks directly to her family, pleading with them to help win her release. “I am in a difficult spot,” she says.

“To my family, to my mother and father, Rina, Arkady, Emma, Avital, David, my friends, I call on them to work to secure my release as soon as possible so I can return to them.”

Falih Hassan contributed reporting.

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