Reports: Israel Buys Vaccines for Syria in Prisoner Deal

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) -
A vial of Sputnik V vaccine in Moscow, Russia, January 18, 2021 (Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo)

Israel paid Russia $1.2 million to provide the Syrian government with coronavirus vaccines as part of a deal that secured the release of an Israeli woman held captive in Damascus, according to Israeli media reports on Sunday.

The terms of the clandestine trade-off orchestrated by Moscow between the two nations remained murky. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that “not one Israeli vaccine” was involved in the deal. He didn’t address whether Israel paid for Russian vaccines, and said Russia insisted details of the swap remain secret.

Netanyahu’s office declined comment, and many details of the agreement remained censored.

Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli called on the Knesset’s foreign affairs and defense committee to discuss the deal and Netanyahu’s “political, inappropriate use of censorship.”

“Why do Israeli citizens consistently need to learn about things from foreign media that their prime minister is hiding from them?” she asked rhetorically on Israel’s Kan radio Sunday.

Gideon Saar, a former Netanyahu ally who is running to unseat him in upcoming elections, said Sunday the government’s “censorship of something that Damascus and Moscow know about, and Israeli citizens don’t, is incomprehensible.”

Israel announced Friday it had reached a Russian-mediated deal to bring home a young woman who had crossed into neighboring Syria earlier this month. In exchange, Israel said it released two Syrian shepherds who had entered Israeli territory.

Netanyahu claimed that his warm ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin helped clinch the deal. His office made no mention of any agreement to pay for vaccines for Syria.

The Israeli reports said Israel paid for an undisclosed number of doses of the Sputnik V vaccine. The Russian Direct Investment Fund, which financed development of Sputnik V, said in November it will cost less than $10 per dose internationally.

The Syrian state news agency denied the deal exists.