Israel – in exchange for the release of its citizen – has agreed to finance the supply of hundreds of thousands of Russian COVID-19 vaccines to Syria, reports the daily Haarec. According to the newspaper, such a ransom could also be used on hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
A 23-year-old Israeli woman was arrested on February 2 for illegally crossing the Syrian border in the Golan Heights. On Thursday, authorities in Damascus released her from detention, and the Israeli government announced that she had been exchanged for two Syrian shepherds detained by Israelis.
A day later, however, “Haarec” reported that the exchange agreement contained an “unusual” condition. Disclosure of details was blocked by a military censor as content relating to the army and national security is under its scrutiny prior to publication.
According to the New York Times and the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Ashark al-Awsat, the Israelis agreed to finance an initially unspecified number of vaccines for Syria. According to these sources, Israel would pay for Sputnik V vaccines directly to Russia mediating in negotiations between two hostile countries that have never established diplomatic relations.
After details of the deal were released by foreign sources, an Israeli censor lifted the earlier ban. In turn, the official Syrian news agency SANA has denied these reports.
Vaccines are being used as a bargaining chip also in the case of two Israeli hostages, including one of Ethiopian origin, who have been held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip for over six years. The families of the detained soldiers have been calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for two months to use this kind of medical aid in the negotiations.
“The question now is why (Netanyahu) will not pay a similar price for the Gaza deal, even if Hamas’ demands are greater. Is the blood of a young ultra-Orthodox woman in Syria redder than the blood of an Ethiopian immigrant in Gaza?” – ‘Haarec’, reluctant to the prime minister, asks.
The freed Israeli, whose identity has not been revealed, comes from a religious background, but she left her family and joined the army. She tried three times to get to the Gaza Strip and once to Jordan. Each time she was detained or arrested by the Israeli authorities, which finally released her because of her mental ill health, “Ashark al-Awsat” reports.
Israel has administered at least one dose of the vaccine to almost half of its population, while Syria, where civil war has been raging for over 10 years, has yet to start a vaccination program.
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