Israel and Syria Full a Prisoner Swap, Mediated by Russia

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JERUSALEM — Israel and Syria have fought a number of wars, by no means had diplomatic relations, and nonetheless contest the sovereignty of a tract of land, the Golan Heights, that was seized by Israel from Syria in 1967.

However on Thursday, the 2 international locations shared a uncommon second of oblique cooperation, collaborating in a Russian-mediated prisoner swap that noticed an Israeli girl held captive by Syria exchanged for 2 Syrian shepherds captured by Israel, the Israeli authorities introduced early Friday morning.

“Israel has at all times accomplished and can at all times do all the things in its energy to carry our residents again,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel mentioned in a press release.

The girl has not been named. However she is in her 20s, comes from close to Jerusalem and has a historical past of making an attempt to illegally enter Israel’s neighbors, an Israeli official mentioned. She entered Syria by land in early February earlier than being detained by Syrian authorities, who shortly realized that she was a civilian somewhat than a spy, the official mentioned.

The precise circumstances of her entrance are unclear and would be the topic of an investigation by Israeli officers after her return.

Following mediation by Russia, which is a Syrian ally with a big navy presence within the nation, the girl was flown to Moscow, the official mentioned. There, she was met on Thursday evening by an Israeli crew that included a former intelligence officer, Yaron Blum, who has a historical past of involvement in prisoner exchanges.

Her handover was preceded by the discharge of two Syrian shepherds who had been captured by Israel after crossing by land into the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.

The Golan Heights had been occupied by Israel through the 1967 conflict between Israel, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, and are house to about 20,000 Druze Arabs. Many of the territory is split by a border fence, however it’s attainable to cross the border in additional mountainous components of the area, the place it’s laborious to construct a well-fortified barrier.

Israeli officers have been speaking in regards to the case with Russian counterparts since at the least Feb. 8. To facilitate the trade, Mr. Netanyahu spoke twice with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

However the potential for a swap was stored secret till Tuesday, for concern of jeopardizing the deal.

The Israeli girl was first meant to be swapped for 2 Arab residents of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights who had been being held by Israeli authorities.

However one among them, Diyab Qahmuz, in jail for smuggling explosives from Lebanon into Israel, in line with Israeli media, refused to be despatched to Syria. The second, Nihal al-Maqt, continues to be topic to additional questioning by the Israeli home intelligence company, the official mentioned.

The Syrian shepherds had been then shortly lined up as replacements, resulting in their launch at a Syrian border crossing on Thursday afternoon, and the girl’s subsequent supply to Moscow. It was unclear early Friday whether or not she had but left the Russian capital to return to Israel.

“The State of Israel needs to specific appreciation for the actions of the President of Russia,” the Israeli prime minister’s workplace mentioned in a press release.

Russia has mediated in related episodes prior to now. In 2016, Mr. Putin helped facilitate the return of an Israeli tank captured by Syrian troops in southern Lebanon in 1982. Three years later, the Kremlin mediated the return of the stays of a tank driver killed in the identical battle, Zachary Baumel.

Isabel Kershner contributed reporting.

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