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Syrian dictator Assad and first lady test positive for COVID

Official statement says both feeling well, will isolate for 2-3 weeks; unclear if they’d been vaccinated; Israel reportedly funded shipment of Sputnik V doses to Syria last month

In this photo provided by the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency, Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, and first lady Asma Assad, center right, speak during a visit to the Producers exhibition, in Damascus, Syria, Nov. 4, 2020 (Syrian Presidency Facebook page via AP)
In this photo provided by the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency, Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, and first lady Asma Assad, center right, speak during a visit to the Producers exhibition, in Damascus, Syria, Nov. 4, 2020 (Syrian Presidency Facebook page via AP)

Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife Asma have tested positive for COVID-19 after experiencing mild symptoms, the presidency said Monday.

“After experiencing mild symptoms that resemble… COVID-19, President Assad and first lady Asma Assad took a PCR test, and the result showed that they are infected with the virus,” the presidency said in a statement.

“They are in good health and their condition is stable,” the statement said.

It said that the two will spend between two to three weeks in isolation in their home.

Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife Asma (photo credit: AP Photo/Michel Spingler/File)
Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife, Asma (photo credit: AP/Michel Spingler/File)

It was not immediately clear if Assad and his family members have been vaccinated.

Assad is 55 and his wife is 10 years his junior.

In 2019, Asma announced she was “totally” free of breast cancer after a year of treatment.

Syria, which marks 10 years of war next week, has recorded nearly 16,000 virus cases in government-held parts of the country and 1,063 deaths, but the numbers are believed to be much higher with limited amounts of PCR testing being done.

Syria began a vaccination campaign last week, but no details have been given about the process.

The development came after media reports in Israel and abroad claimed that Jerusalem had agreed to fund the purchase of an unknown quantity of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for Syria, as part of a deal for the return of an Israeli woman who was held by Damascus after she crossed the border at the start of February.

The terms of the clandestine trade-off negotiated by Moscow remained murky; Damascus denied it happened and Russia had no comment.

Though Syria is under international financial sanctions, medicines are generally exempt. However, sanctions imposed on Syria to pressure the regime over its human rights record have left the country with little financial resources to negotiate deals for a national inoculation program.

Civil defense personnel take the body of a person who died of coronavirus from a hospital in Idlib, Syria, Nov. 14, 2020 (AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed)

The World Health Organization has said war-ravaged Syria is eligible to receive vaccines for free through the global COVAX effort aimed at helping lower-income countries obtain the shots. It said that the vaccine rollout depends on availability and distribution, and may initially cover only 3% of the population.

Authorities in areas outside Syrian government control have said they are negotiating with donors to receive vaccines, possibly as early as the end of March. Around 4 million people are crammed into the territory in the country’s northwest, which is buckling under repeated government offensives.

Assad has ruled Syria throughout the country’s devastating years-long civil war in which hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and half the population has been displaced. His regime is accused of a series of crimes, including torture, summary executions, rape and the use of chemical weapons.

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