Photo: Flash90

Israeli woman freed in Syria swap

An Israeli woman who illegally crossed Israel’s northern border into Syria about two weeks ago was returned to the Jewish State in a Kremlin-brokered prisoner swap between Jerusalem and Damascus. She is believed to have been transported to Russia over the past week and repatriated aboard a private Israeli plane.

Israeli official confirmed that the operation included the release of two Syrian shepherds with alleged links to the Lebanese Iranian-proxy Hezbollah.

According to a statement from the IDF Spokesman, the two Syrian nationals were handed over to the Red Cross at the Quneitra border crossing in the Golan Heights.

Syrian state media cited “informed sources” as identifying the pair as Mohammed Hussein and Tariq al-Ubaydan, both of whom were said to be residents of the Quneitra area.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a film statement in which he said he had discussed the matter with Russian President Vladimir Putin twice. “I would like to thank him for again having joined in an effort to bring Israeli citizens back to the country,” said Netanyahu, adding that, “Israel has always, and will always, do everything it can to bring its citizens back home.”

The Israeli leader also thanked Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, the head of the National Security Council, the coordinator for captives and the missing, the IDF, the ISA, the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and “all those who helped in this important action.”

National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat is believed to have flown to Russia to facilitate the exchange, along with Israel’s Coordinator for Prisoners of War (POWs) and individuals Missing in Action (MIAs) Yaron Bloom.

Full details on the woman’s identity and motives have not been released. She is believed to have been arrested by Syrian intelligence after entering a Druze village after crossing in an area lacking a permanent border wall. Reports have surfaced that the same individual may be mentally ill, and has previously prevented by the Israeli army from attempts to enter Gaza and the Palestinian Authority city of Jericho.

Syrian state media reported that Moscow was mediating the swap with Damascus whereby Jerusalem would release two residents of the Israeli Golan Heights, who hold Syrian citizenship. Israeli news agencies reported that both were imprisoned for security offenses, but turned down the opportunity for freedom  – because they refused to be deported to Syria.