Deal to Return Israeli Woman From Syria Included Unusual, Undisclosed Clause

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A UNIFIL observation post overlooking Syria in the Golan Heights, last month.
A UNIFIL observation post overlooking Syria in the Golan Heights, last month.Credit: Gil Eliahu

The deal to secure the return of an Israeli who crossed the border into Syria included an unusual clause that was not disclosed, likely because it had the potential to anger the Israeli public.

The young woman returned on a private flight from Russia in the early hours of Friday, after being taken there from Syria sometime in the past week. She previously attempted, without success, to cross the border to Jordan and the Gaza Strip. Her motives are still unclear.

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.

The Israel Defense Forces' spokesman said the two Syrian nationals were handed over to the Red Cross at the Quneitra border crossing in the Golan Heights. The military added the shepherds' return was ordered by the government. According to the military, the shepherds were arrested after crossing the border on suspicion of working on behalf of Hezbollah. 

Syrian state media, citing "informed sources," confirmed two "prisoners" were released. The two were identified as residents of the Quneitra area, Mohammed Hussein and Tariq al-Ubaydan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with the woman's mother on Friday aftermnoon. She expressed gratitude for the efforts made to return her daughter, and he said that Israel will always work to bring back its citizens. 

On Wednesday, Syrian state media reported that the Israeli woman had entered Syrian territory through the Quneitra crossing and was arrested by authorities. National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and the coordinator for POWs and MIAs, Yaron Blum, flew to Russia to hold negotiations with Syria.

Russia has been a channel between Israel and Bashar Assad's regime in recent years, due to its deep involvement in Syria. About two years ago, Moscow mediated the return of the remains of Zachary Baumel, an Israel Defense Forces soldier who was killed in the Battle of Sultan Yacoub in 1982. His remains were transferred from Syria to Russia a few days before arriving in Israel in April of 2019.

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