Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office says it has completed a Russian-mediated prisoner exchange that will bring home a young Israeli woman who has crossed the border into Syria
Netanyahu thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for his help in engineering the agreement, saying he had turned to the leader for help. “I asked for his help and he really acted,” Netanyahu said, calling the Russian leader “his friend.”
Little is known about why the woman entered Syria. Israeli media said she is a former resident of an ultra-Orthodox settlement on the West Bank, but has not been publicly identified. Syrian media said she accidentally entered Syrian territory after crossing the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights.
The official Syrian media first reported on the new agreement on Wednesday, saying the two Syrians would be exchanged for an Israeli woman.
The two Syrians were identified as Nihal al-Makt, who was under house arrest in her village in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, and Ziyab Qahmouz, detained in 2016 and served 14 years in Israeli prisons.
But the deal ran into complications after al-Makt and Qahmouz, both from the Golan, refused to be transferred to Syria.
Israel occupied the Golan in the Middle East War in 1967 and annexed the territory in 1981, which is not widely recognized internationally.
The Syrian official news agency SANA said al-Makt was serving a three-year suspended sentence, along with a year of community service. She said those restrictions were lifted on Wednesday, and talking to Syrian TV Al-Ikhbariya via Skype, she said she is now free. Netanyahu’s office confirmed on Thursday that her sentence had been reduced by three months.
Al-Ikhbariya said Qahmouz remained in Israeli custody.
Syrian SANA said late Thursday that two more Syrians – apparently two shepherds – had returned home to their villages in Quneitra province.
Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman of Tel Aviv in Israel and Albert Aji of Damascus in Syria contributed to this report.