Israeli woman who entered Syria flown home

The Israeli government is withholding some details about the Russia-mediated deal that also involved two Syrians being released from Israeli prison.

al-monitor An Israeli flag is seen placed on Mount Bental in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on May 10, 2018. Photo by JALAA MAREY/AFP via Getty Images.

Topics covered

russian influence, prisoners exchange, golan heights, israel-syria relations

Feb 19, 2021

Israel and Syria appear to have to struck a prisoner-exchange deal, though not all the details of the arrangement are known.

The exchange involved several Israelis and Syrians and was mediated by Russia. An Israeli woman from an ultra-Orthodox West Bank settlement illegally entered Syria recently and was detained by the authorities. She was later transferred to Russian custody. To secure her release, Israel sent two recently detained Syrian shepherds who had illegally entered Israel back to Syria on Thursday. Israel and Syria were also in talks regarding two residents of the Golan Heights, Nahal al-Makat and Diab Kahamuz, who were convicted of crimes by Israel, according to Israeli and Syrian media outlets.

On Friday, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that a young Israeli woman was being flown home from Moscow and thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for helping secure her return. Netanyahu also said that the state shortened Makat’s “community service” via a pardon by three months. Netanyahu did not mention Kahamuz in the statement.

Both Makat and Kahamuz are from the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, which Syria regards as its territory. They refused to be deported to Syria during the negotiations, according to Israeli media. Makat was previously under house arrest. Netanyahu’s mention of community service being Makat’s sentence implies she remained in her native Golan Heights.

It is possible that the return of the Israeli woman involved more than Makat and the two shepherds. Israeli media outlets reported on Friday that Israel gave further compensation to Syria to secure the woman’s release, but the state has barred the exact details from the public.

Israeli Knesset member Ahmad Tibi hinted that Israel may have provided Syria with vaccines against COVID-19, tweeting, “Do we have to wait for a Jew to cross the border into Gaza to be vaccinated?”

Tibi, who is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, referenced the Gaza Strip receiving coronavirus vaccines after Israel had already vaccinated much of its population.

Other details remain in question. Syrian state media reports said the Israeli woman accidentally entered Syria. However, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said she willingly entered the country. There are numerous other unconfirmed reports in Israeli media about her.

Israel and Syria are technically at war and do not have formal relations. Russia is close with both states.