Israeli woman released, returns home as two shepherds freed to Syria

Written by on February 18, 2021

The young woman who crossed into Syria was set to return to Israel on Friday, with government hostage negotiator Yaron Bloom headed to Moscow on Thursday night to bring her back.

An Israeli doctor examined the woman from the haredi town of Modi’in Illit in Moscow on Wednesday, and found that she was healthy and did not seem to have been hurt in Syria.

The young woman reportedly crossed into Syria several weeks ago. The Syrian state news agency said on Wednesday that she crossed the border “by mistake” and was immediately arrested.

Earlier Thursday, the IDF handed over two shepherds to Red Cross representatives through the Quneitra Crossing in Syria as part of a Russia-negotiated prisoner swap.

“Over the past few weeks, the shepherds were apprehended by IDF troops east of the security fence in the Golan Heights area, after they crossed the Alpha Line from Syria into Israeli territory,” the IDF Spokesperson Unit said. “The suspects were apprehended as part of the ongoing effort to protect Israeli sovereignty along the Alpha Line.”

Israel had agreed to release from prison two residents of Golan Heights towns in which many residents are loyal to Syria. The Syrian statement referred to Nihal al-Maqt of Majdal Shams and Diyab Kahmuz of Ghajar as Syrian nationals being held in Israeli prison.

Khamuz, who was part of a Hezbollah cell and sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2018, refused to leave prison on Wednesday due to the terms of the agreement, which would require him to go to Syria and not return to Ghajar.

The shepherds were released instead of Khamuz.

Maqt, the sister of a Syrian terrorist released in 2019, was released to house arrest in Majdal Shams. She had been sentenced to three years in prison in 2020.

The swap was the focus of the secret cabinet meeting on Tuesday that ministers were warned ahead of time to keep secret, and whose details were censored by the IDF.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Putin twice in recent days, on February 8th and February 13th, asking for his help to return an Israeli citizen. President Putin responded positively to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s request, and Netanyahu thanked him for his assistance.

“A few days ago, a young Israeli woman crossed the border into Syria. I spoke twice with a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin. I asked for his help to get her back, and he acted,” said Netanyahu. 

“I would like to thank him for helping us return Israeli citizens to Israel. Israel has always and will always do everything in its power to bring our citizens back to the land. I would like to thank the President of the State, the head of the National Security Council, the Coordinator of Prisoners and Missing Persons, the IDF, the GSS, the Mossad, the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Affairs Ministry, and everyone who helped in this important operation. Thank you”.

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