An Israeli woman who crossed into Syria a few weeks ago and was arrested by Syrian authorities landed in Israel in the early hours of Friday after a breakthrough in Russian-mediated negotiations between Jerusalem and Damascus.
The woman was transferred to Russia over the past week, and a private Israeli plane left Tel Aviv on Thursday to retrieve her.
On Thursday afternoon, Israel repatriated two Syrian shepherds who crossed into Israel several weeks ago.
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 weere 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.
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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.
According to a preliminary investigation by the military, the woman crossed the border in an area that does not have a permanent fence and was arrested by Syrian intelligence after entering a Druze village. She previously attempted to enter the Gaza Strip but was stopped by the army, the military said.
During talks between Jerusalem and Moscow to secure the woman's release, Russia raised concerns about air strikes on convoys traveling from Iraq into Syria, saying that in some cases the convoys are transporting humanitarian aid, while Israel is convinced Iran is using them to smuggle weapons. The air strikes, Russia argued, are interfering with Assad's efforts to stabilize the situation in northeast 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.