Syria-Israeli prisoner swap in progress under Russian mediation

Two Syrians should be released in return for a young Israeli woman who entered Syrian territory by mistake, Syrian news agency Sana says

An old mobile artillery piece sits in a memorial site near the Quneitra border crossing between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. AP 
An old mobile artillery piece sits in a memorial site near the Quneitra border crossing between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. AP 

Russia is mediating a prisoner swap between Syria and Israel, Syrian state media said on Wednesday.

Two Syrians should be released in return for a young Israeli woman who entered Syrian territory by mistake, Syrian news agency Sana said.

The report did not provide details on when the Syrians were taken prisoners in Israel nor when the Israeli woman entered Syria.

The news agency said the two Syrians are natives of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights being held in Israeli prison.

Nihal Al Makt, one of the Syrians, comes from a family, several of whose members were formerly prisoners in Israeli prisons.

Al Makt of Majdal Shams was sentenced to three years for "security offences" in 2020, according to Israeli media.

Her brother was released in an exchange of prisoners last year, also mediated by Russia, that came after Syria returned the remains of Israeli soldier Sgt Zachary Baumel killed in a 1982 battle in 1982.

The second is Thiyab Kahmuz, a Syrian captive from the occupied Syrian Golan town of Ghajar, Sana reported.

Israeli media reported Kahmuz was sentenced to 14 years in 2018 for being part of a Hezbollah cell, passing information to Israel’s enemies and smuggling drugs and weapons.

The report came a day after Israel's cabinet met in a special session to discuss what officials said was a humanitarian issue in which Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, was involved.

Israel captured the Golan in the 1967 war and annexed it in 1981, a move that is not recognised internationally except by the United States.

The report said the Israeli woman entered Syria’s Quneitra province by mistake and was taken into Syrian custody.

There was no immediate Russian comment but Jerusalem Post reported that Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and hostage negotiation coordinator Yaron Bloom flew to Moscow on Wednesday.

Israeli media reported that the swap had been discussed at a secret cabinet meeting on Tuesday night regarding a "humanitarian matter".

The Jerusalem Post also reported an unusually high level of contact between senior Israeli and Russian officials last week including calls between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Arabic newspaper Asharq Al Awsat reported last week that Russian forces in Syria had been searching a cemetery near a Palestinian refugee camp south of Damascus for remains of an Israeli soldier.

Updated: February 17, 2021 09:35 PM

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