Israeli Held in Syria After Crossing Border, Russia Mediating Release

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Israeli soldiers at the Syrian border in November.
Israeli soldiers at the Syrian border in November.Credit: Pool / Reuters

Syrian state media reported on Wednesday that an Israeli woman entered Syrian territory through the Quneitra crossing and was arrested by authorities. Shin Bet chief Meir Ben-Shabbat and the coordinator for POWs and MIAs, Yaron Blum, have flown to Russia to continue negotiations with Syria, which Russia is mediating. 

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said in an interview with Israel Army radio that he is "working to save her life."

"I am using my connections with Russian President Putin to fix this," Netanyahu said.

According to the report, negotiations are taking place to release the woman, who accidentally wandered into Syria via Qunitra, in exchange for the release of Syrian civilians held in Israel.Foreign sources have told Haaretz that the woman is from the religious West Bank settlement of Modi'in Illit.

"As part of the Syrian government's efforts to free its citizens from Israeli prisons at all costs, negotiations for the release of prisoners from the Syrian Golan Heights from Israeli prisons," the report said. The Syrian media has quoted sources who said that Syria demanded the release of two prisoners, Diab Kahamuz and Nihal al-Maqt, in exchange for the Israeli woman.

Residents of Ghajar charged with security offenses at the Nazareth Magistrate's Court in 2018. Credit: Gil Eliyahu

Kahamuz, 34, received a 14-year sentence in 2018 for smuggling explosives he received from Hezbollah into Israel from Lebanon and choosing possible sites in northern Israel for carrying out a terror attack with explosives. He is a resident of Ghajar, an Israeli Arab village on the with border Lebanon.

He was convicted of aiding the enemy in wartime and of contact with a foreign agent, but acquitted of espionage and providing information to the enemy. He was also fined 120,000 shekels ($34,500).

Additionally, the Palestinian Prisoners Club released a statement that says the Israeli Prison Service has decided to release Kahamuz to Syria according to the agreement that as formed between Israel and Syria brokered by Russia.

Last night, Kahamuz was released from his wing at Ketziot Prison, after a decision was made regarding his release, according to Palestinian sources. However, he refused to be released to Damascus, and was subsequently returned to the wing, and is awaiting developments.

According to the source, advancement regarding his release may be made if Syria moves to allow the transfer of the remains of fallen IDF soldiers from the Battle of Sultan Yacoub in Lebanon in June, 1982.

The Israel-Syria border. Credit: Gil Eliyahu

On Tuesday evening, the Israeli cabinet convened to discuss a recent incident relating to 'humanitarian issues' Syria

Details of the meeting, which was convened at 6 P.M. and ended about an hour later, had been banned from publication at Defense Minister Benny Gantz's request. Cabinet ministers were notified of the meeting at around 4 P.M., and were asked not to speak to the media about the existence of the meeting or its content.

Tuesday night's meeting came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent days, as did Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi with their Russian counterparts, Sergey Shoygu and Sergei Lavrov.

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

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