Sunday, December 5

Israel claims to have used Covid vaccines as a negotiating tool in the prisoner exchange in Syria | Israel

Israel secured coronavirus vaccines for the Syrian regime as part of a Russian-brokered prisoner swap agreed to this week, according to an Israeli source and local media reports.

The source, who requested anonymity, did not indicate the number of vaccines or whether they were from Israel’s own supply. Barak Ravid, an Israeli reporter, wrote on Twitter that the country had paid Russia $ 1.2 million (£ 850,000) for its Sputnik V vaccine as part of the deal, citing “foreign sources”.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Friday that a young Israeli who crossed the border into Syria was heading back to the country. In exchange, the Israeli government had returned two Syrian herders it had been holding, he said. It is unclear why the Israeli woman entered Syria.

The press in Israel had initially referred to another unspecified but apparently significant clause in the agreement, adding that the country’s military censorship had blocked the publication. Under Israeli law, the agency can avoid reporting on topics it deems related to security issues.

the Times of Israel website said a “central aspect of the agreement ”had been prohibited by the censor “Despite the fact that the matter would be viewed as deeply controversial to the Israeli public.”

However, once foreign media began reporting on the deal on Saturday, the Israeli military censor lifted the ban.

Amos Harel, Defense and Military Correspondent of Haaretz Newspaper, wrote that Netanyahu he would have preferred to keep the deal a secret, as “the Israeli right is not enthusiastic about Israel spending its money buying vaccines for citizens of Arab countries.”

He added that Syria’s vaccine deal could increase pressure on Netanyahu to use a similar method with the militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The families of two Israeli soldiers whose bodies are being held in the enclave have been calling on the government to use the vaccines as a bargaining chip.

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Friday that a young Israeli who crossed the border into Syria was heading back to Israel. Photograph: Alex Kolomoisky / AP

Some Israeli media suggested that Moscow, which is still vaccinating its own population, had also asked that the clause remain secret. Syrian state media denied the reports about a vaccine deal, calling them “fabricated information.”

Israel has secured more than enough vaccinations for its nine million citizens, half of whom have received at least one injection. Syria has not yet started vaccinating.

On Hebrew social media, speculation about a possible vaccine transfer this week had centered on a cryptic tweet from an Israeli politician.

Ahmad Tibi, who belongs to Israel’s Arab minority, complained that the government had not made greater efforts to help vaccinate Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip.

“Did I have to wait for a Jewish woman to cross into Gaza so that [Palestinians there] will be vaccinated? “Tibi wrote.

The tweet was widely interpreted as a comparison to the Israeli woman who entered Syria, and was seen to suggest that Israel gave vaccines to the Bashar al-Assad government in Damascus.

Elizabeth Tsurkov, an analyst for Syria and a researcher at the Forum for Regional Thought, said on Twitter that Tibi was stating that Israel “gave Covid vaccines to the Assad regime as part of the exchange agreement.”

She added: “Whatever vaccines were given to the regime, expect them to be distributed to cronies, warlords, members of the mukhabarat, high-ranking officials, not vulnerable groups like the elderly or people with pre-existing conditions. “.

The Israeli embassy in London declined to comment.

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