As Israeli Woman Crossed the Syrian Border, Soldiers Were Looking the Wrong Way

The Israeli army initially thought the woman, who was returned in a Russian-mediated prisoner swap, had entered Syria through an unfenced part of the border, but investigation found she had climbed over the border fence

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Warning signs near the border area between Israel and Syria, in November.
Warning signs near the border area between Israel and Syria, in November.Credit: Hamad Almakt/Reuters

Israeli soldiers near Syria had received an alert of a possible border breach three weeks ago when an Israeli woman crossed it, but did not locate her because they suspected an intrusion into Israel, according to findings published by the Israel Defense Forces on Monday following its internal investigation of the incident, which resulted in a Russian-mediated prisoner swap last week.

According to the military's probe, in accordance with regulations, following receipt of the alert that the border had been breached, the soldiers initially conducted a scan to ascertain whether someone had entered Israel and only after realizing there had been no breach of the border from Syria, began looking into a possible entry into Syria from Israel. It was during that time, the probe found, that the woman got further into Syrian territory.

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Although the IDF initially believed that the woman had crossed over into Syria through an unfenced portion of the border, the investigation revealed that she had in fact climbed over a fence with warning systems, 150 meters (about 164 yards) away from there.  

Scans and observations by the soldiers had not revealed anything, and the soldiers did not report the incident up the chain of command to more senior-level headquarters, according to the report. Although the investigation found that errors were made in the way the soldiers handled the incident, the IDF did not characterize it as a serious incident requiring significant disciplinary action against those involved.   

The woman, whose name has been barred for publication, arrived at the Golan Heights town of Majdal Shams, on the Israeli side of the border, on February 1 at around 8 P.M., according to the army's findings. She spent about two hours there and then starting climbing up a path that leads to the border area, and eventually crossed into Syria.

The woman arrived in Israel in the early hours of Friday, by way of a private plane sent to retrieve her from Russia, where she had been transferred last week. 

In exchange for her return, Israel nullified the sentence of a Druze woman from the Golan Heights who was ordered to perform community service and repatriated two shepherds to Syria, as part of a Russia-mediated deal struck with the Assad regime.

According to foreign reports, as part of the deal, Israel agreed to purchase hundreds of thousands of Russian-made COVID vaccines that will be given to Syria.  

Syria's official news agency, SANA, denied reports of the vaccine agreement, saying that it was a lie meant to portray Israel as a humanitarian nation and improve its image.

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