Russia negotiates unusual prisoner swap between Israel and Syria –

Russia negotiates unusual prisoner swap between Israel and Syria

Russia has negotiated a rare prisoner swap that saw Syria free an Israeli woman who crossed into the country on Thursday, Israeli officials said.

The panorama: The two weeks leading up to the deal involved a call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s capture of two Syrian shepherds as bargaining chips, and a Syrian prisoner’s refusal to leave prison as part of the agreement. .

The backstory: An Israeli woman in her 20s crossed into Syria two weeks ago through the Golan Heights, entered a village and began talking to local people.

  • Someone reportedly alerted the Syrian army that an Israeli had entered the village because she was arrested and taken away for questioning by Syrian intelligence agents.
  • The Syrians initially suspected she was a spy, as did Israeli officials who heard they had captured an Israeli woman. But it soon became clear that she was a civilian.
  • The Syrians notified the Russian forces in Syria, who informed the Israelis of the full situation. At the time, the Israelis made it clear that they saw this as a humanitarian issue and asked the Russians to facilitate an agreement.

The Syrians quickly accepted to the idea of ​​a prisoner exchange, but the process dragged on for two weeks due to a series of complications.

  • The Russians initially tried to broaden the discussions, asking Israel to curb its air strikes in Syria on the grounds that they make it difficult to transport humanitarian aid. In addition to Netanyahu’s call with Putin, Israel’s defense and foreign ministers also spoke with their Russian counterparts.
  • An agreement was finally reached: Israel would release two Syrians convicted of terrorism-related crimes and provide Syria with COVID-19 aid.
  • On Wednesday, Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat traveled to Moscow, where he had already taken the Israeli woman. An Israeli doctor deemed her in good health and ready to travel.

But then there was a downside. One of the prisoners said he would rather stay in an Israeli prison for the remaining 14 years of his term than be deported to Syria, Israeli officials say.

  • However, Israeli soldiers had already been sent to the buffer zone between Israel and Syria in search of negotiating chips. They had waited for two shepherds to cross into an Israeli enclave and capture them.
  • Syria finally agreed to exchange the Israeli woman for the shepherds. They were released on Thursday and a plane left Israel to take the woman home.

Behind the scenes: The incident was kept under a strict gag order for the past two weeks due to concerns that any press reports could sabotage the deal.

  • On Tuesday, the Israeli cabinet met urgently under a veil of secrecy. The ministers themselves did not know what it was about until they arrived at the Prime Minister’s office and were asked to sign non-disclosure forms.
  • The Israeli military censor banned the Israeli media from reporting any details about the cabinet meeting beyond the fact that it took place, prompting speculation across the country about what had happened.

Between lines: It is not yet clear what led the Israeli citizen to cross the border.

  • Israeli officials say she had studied Arabic and did not previously attempt to cross the border fence into Gaza.
  • “He seems like a person in need of adventure,” an Israeli official told me.

Whats Next: The Israeli security services are expected to question her upon her return to assess why she traveled to Syria.


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