Israeli Woman Who Crossed Into Syria Returns Home

YERUSHALAYIM -
Uniformed men ride a pickup truck as they carry a Syrian flag in Quneitra on the Syrian side of the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria, as seen from the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. (Reuters/Ammar Awad)

The Israeli woman who had crossed the border into Syria last week landed back in Israel late Thursday night, after she was transferred by the Syrians to Russia.

Her return was facilitated by Russia, which mediated the prisoner swap. Within the framework of the exchange, Israel released two Syrian shepherds who had crossed into Israeli territory in recent weeks and reduced the sentence of an Israeli resident suspected of aiding a hostile element by three months.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office said the 25-year-old Israeli was flown from Syria to Russia, where an Israeli plane was dispatched to retrieve her. It has also been reported that the woman is mentally unstable.

Netanyahu thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for helping engineer the deal, saying he had reached out to the leader for help. “I asked for his help, and he indeed acted,” Netanyahu said, calling the Russian leader “my friend.”

Netanyahu also thanked the Israeli officials who helped secure the woman’s release.

Official Syrian media first reported the emerging deal on Wednesday, saying that two Syrians were to be exchanged for the Israeli woman.

The two Syrians were identified as Nihal al-Makt, who had been under house arrest in her village on the Golan Heights, and Ziyab Qahmouz, detained in 2016 and serving 14 years in an Israeli jail for helping plan a terrorist attack.

But the deal ran into complications after the two, who are both from the Golan, refused to be transferred to Syria.

Israel’s special negotiator for hostages and prisoners of war, Yaron Blum, who had departed for Moscow earlier Thursday, escorted the Israeli woman home. According to the IDF, she had crossed into Syria in a mountainous area near the Druze town of Majdal Shams.

The army also said it handed over the two Syrian shepherds to Red Cross officials at the Quneitra border crossing.