Israel secretly agrees to purchase Covid vaccines for Syria in prisoner exchange deal: report

Israel secretly agrees to purchase Covid vaccines for Syria in prisoner exchange deal: report
Syria called the reports a lie intended to boost Israel's image and "humanitarian credentials".
2 min read
20 February, 2021
The vaccine shipment was reportedly part of a prisoner exchange [Getty]
Israel has allegedly agreed to purchase hundreds of thousands of Russia's Sputnik V vaccines for Syria, according to media reports, as part of a prisoner exchange between Tel Aviv and Damascus.

Moscow-brokered deal on Thursday ensured the release of an Israeli woman who crossed the Syrian border and was detained by the Assad regime. Israel also released two Syrian shepherds who had crossed over the contested border of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Saudi-owned Al Sharq al Awsat newspaper claimed "informed sources" within Israel confirmed a "secret clause", which involved delivering vaccines to Syria.

It cited a high-ranking Israeli official telling Israel's Channel 13 that the delivery took place, and that "the additional price that was paid to Syria was not at the expense of the citizens of Israel and did not affect Israeli interests. Rather, it is a price of a symbolic and humanitarian character with the vision of future Israeli interests in cooperation with Russia and Syria."

Syria's official news agency, SANA, denied these reports, slamming the claims as lies intended to boost Israel's image and give it humanitarian credentials. 

The Israeli woman returned on a private flight from Russia on Friday, after being taken there from Syria.

Israel's military said the two shepherds, Mohamed Hussein and Tarek Al-Obeidan, had been arrested "a few weeks" ago, upon their release.

SANA said the pair were released following a deal conducted through "Russian mediation", that also allowed the release of Syrian woman activist Nihal Al-Mokt, in exchange for a young Israeli woman who had strayed into Syria.

The Israeli Knesset’s Joint List lawmaker Ahmad Tibi seemingly hinted at the deal on Friday, calling for vaccines to be sent to the Gaza Strip as well.

"Must we wait for a Jew to cross the border into Gaza for us to get vaccinated?" he wrote on Twitter. "There is another way. It's international law and it's humane. This is the same, continuous epidemiological region."

While Israel has already vaccinated most of its citizens, it has faced criticism for refusing to give vaccines to Palestinians in the occupied territories.

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