Jerusalem-When a young Israeli woman was arrested for crossing the border into Syria illegally and was released in Syria this week, the official story is that she was the beneficiary of a direct prisoner exchange. The Israeli government announced that it exchanged her for two Syrian shepherds captured by the Israelis on the grounds of freedom of exchange.
But if the agreement reached between these two enemy nations that have never shared diplomatic relations sounds too quick and easy, it is a fact. Secretly, Israel actually agreed to a more controversial ransom: According to an official familiar with the negotiations, Israel provided Syria with an unknown amount of coronavirus vaccine.
The Israeli government declined to comment on the vaccine aspect of the deal, while the Syrian state-controlled news media Syrian Arab News denied that the vaccine was part of the arrangement. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked about the vaccine in a TV interview on Saturday night, he avoided the question, saying only that the Israeli vaccine was not shipped to Syria.
Mr. Netanyahu said: “I am very happy to bring that woman.” He thanked Russian President Vladimir V Putin and said: “I will not increase it.”
The deal constitutes a rare moment of unstable cooperation between the two countries that have fought several wars but are still vying for sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a land occupied by Israel from Syria in 1967.
It also highlights how vaccines have increasingly become a feature of international diplomacy. Moreover, this reflects the huge and widening gaps between wealthy countries like Israel, which have made great strides in the use of coronavirus vaccines and may soon return to a certain state of normalcy, while countries like Syria Such poor countries do not.
Among the Palestinians, news reports about the Israeli-Syrian agreement have made people frustrated with the low number of vaccines Israel provides to Palestinians living in the occupied territories. Israel only provided a few thousand vaccines to the approximately 2.8 million Palestinians living in the West Bank. Last week, the Israeli government temporarily postponed the delivery of the first batch of vaccines to the Gaza Strip, where nearly 2 million people live.
Israel insists that the Oslo Agreement exempts it from providing Palestinian medical care. However, human rights activists and Palestinians have invoked the Fourth Geneva Convention, which requires the occupying power to coordinate with local authorities to maintain public health in the occupied territories.
Israeli officials say they must vaccinate their residents before vaccinating Palestinians. The Palestinian leader’s researcher and former adviser Khalid Elgindi said that the Syrian agreement conveyed a different message.
Elgindi said: “Israel is willing to provide vaccines for Syrians outside its borders, but at the same time not to provide vaccines to the huge population for which they are legally responsible.” “This seems to be sending a message that they are deliberately trying to avoid taking care of the Legal responsibility for the welfare of the occupied population.”
Among Israelis, the exchange of prisoners has raised concerns about how civilians cross the highly regulated and tense Syrian border undetected by Israeli authorities.
The official said that the 23-year-old woman crossed the vicinity of Mount Hermon and entered Syria on February 2 and was not initially discovered by Israel or the Syrian army. According to a court order, her name cannot be made public at present.
Israel learned that she only disappeared when her friend told the police that she was missing. Only after a Syrian civilian approaching her realized that she was an Israeli and called the police did she enter the Syrian detention facility.
Israel then asked Russia-a Syrian ally with strong military power in the country-to help mediate her release. Russia and Israel have coordinated in similar incidents in the past. In 2016, Russia assisted in mediating the return of Israeli tanks that the Syrian army occupied in Lebanon in 1982. In 2019, Moscow assisted the return of the body of the Israeli soldier Zachary Baumel who was killed in the same conflict.
The woman grew up in an ultra-Orthodox family in a settlement in the West Bank. She is said to have a history of trying to enter Israel’s Arab neighbors illegally, once in Jordan and once in Gaza. On both occasions, she was arrested by Israeli forces, returned, questioned and warned not to do it again.
Israeli negotiators seek to act quickly to avoid a repeat of the crisis that followed the disappearance of Avera Mengistu in Gaza. Avera Mengistu (Avera Mengistu), a mentally ill person, entered the area in 2014 and has been held by the militant Haras detention team ever since, which often improves his release cost.
Mr. Netanyahu had two direct dialogues with Mr. Putin, while Israel’s National Security Adviser Mel Bin Sabbath had an exchange with Russian President Nikolai Patrushev.
The Syrians first demanded the release of two Syrian residents imprisoned in Israel’s Golan Heights, but this arrangement broke down after the two proved unwilling to return to Syria.
Israel subsequently offered to release the two shepherds, and at some point in the negotiations raised the possibility of a vaccine.
The Israeli cabinet voted to agree to the terms of the agreement on Tuesday, the same day the 23-year-old flew to Moscow. After further negotiations between Israeli and Russian officials, she returned to Israel on Thursday.
In Moscow, officials did not provide any confirmed arrangements before Saturday night, and the Russian news media only quoted reports from Israeli publications.
But the Russian government has been using its vaccines diplomatically from Latin America to the Middle East for months. On Thursday, President Putin’s Syrian special envoy Alexander Lavrentiev stated that Russia will provide Syria with its satellite V vaccine during an interview with TASS.
Patrick Kingsley (Patrick Kingsley) from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv (R Tel Aviv) from Ronen Bergman (Ronen Bergman), Moscow from Andrew E. Hwaida Saad provided Carol Sutherland from Beirut and Moshav Ben Ami, Israel report.