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Israel and Syria Full a Prisoner Swap, Mediated by Russia

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 nations shared a uncommon second of oblique cooperation, collaborating in a Russian-mediated prisoner swap that noticed an Israeli lady 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 deliver our residents again,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel mentioned in an announcement.

The girl has not been named. However she is in her 20s, comes from close to Jerusalem and has a historical past of attempting 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 rapidly realized that she was a civilian relatively 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 lady was flown to Moscow, the official mentioned. There, she was met on Thursday night time 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 have been occupied by Israel in the course of the 1967 conflict between Israel, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, and are residence to about 20,000 Druze Arabs. Many of the territory is split by a border fence, however it’s potential to cross the border in additional mountainous elements of the area, the place it’s onerous to construct a well-fortified barrier.

Israeli officers have been speaking concerning the case with Russian counterparts since no less than Feb. eight. To facilitate the trade, Mr. Netanyahu spoke twice with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

However the opportunity of a swap was saved secret till Tuesday, for worry of jeopardizing the deal.

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

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

The Syrian shepherds have been then rapidly lined up as replacements, resulting in their launch at a Syrian border crossing on Thursday afternoon, and the lady’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 precise appreciation for the actions of the President of Russia,” the Israeli prime minister’s workplace mentioned in an announcement.

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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