An Israeli woman who crossed into Syria two weeks ago, and was returned under a murky deal brokered by Russia, was previously spotted by Hezbollah on the Lebanese border, according to a journalist affiliated with the terror group.
The reporter, Ali Choeib of the pro-Hezbollah Al-Manar outlet, said the woman was seen near the border in an SUV with an open window in October 2020.
He posted photos said to be of the same woman in October, and posted another image from the same incident on Sunday, along with additional photos.
At the time, tensions on the border were higher than normal due to Israeli fears of a Hezbollah counterattack following the killing of a commander in Syria.
According to Ynet, the woman was stopped at the time by a senior Israeli Defense Forces officer near the border, warned about the danger of being there, and sent away.
The woman was returned to Israel Friday via a swap deal brokered by Russia, two weeks after crossing the border into Syria. Details of the affair, including the woman’s name and pictures of her, have been censored by the military. She is said to be a 25-year-old from Modiin Illit who speaks fluent Arabic.
תמונותיה של הצעירה הישראלית כפי שצולמו בידי חיזבאללה באוקטובר 2020 תוך כדי התרעה חמה לפיגוע על גדר גבול לבנון מול הכפר עיטא א שעב. בחיזבאללה חשבו בזמנו שמדובר בלוחמת צהל או אשת מודיעין על אזרחי. הסיפור שונה לגמרי. הצעירה עדיין נמצאת הבוקר בתשאול של השבכ בשל המעבר לסוריה. pic.twitter.com/EmhsBPzcaF
— Or Heller אור הלר (@OrHeller) February 21, 2021
The woman’s crossing into Syria earlier this month was not her first time attempting to cross Israel’s borders. According to Israeli authorities, she had twice tried to enter the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip — once by land and once on a makeshift raft — and once attempted to cross into Jordan. All three times she was captured by either the military or the police.
Her past Facebook posts had her defiantly vowing, “No fence will stop me.”
Israel released two Syrian shepherds captured on the Israeli side of the border, and reduced the sentence of a security prisoner of Syrian nationality, in what was widely seen as an exchange deal. Israel said it made the moves as a goodwill gesture.
A foreign report said that Israeli had also agreed to buy $1 million worth of Russian vaccines for Syria as part of the deal.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when asked about the report, said that “not even one Israeli vaccine dose went to this thing,” though he did not deny that Israel had funded a purchase of Russian vaccines.
“We brought the woman home, I’m happy we did it, but beyond that I’m not adding anything because that was what Russia requested,” he said.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz also refused to comment on whether Israel was funding Russian vaccines for Syria.
The Assad regime denied the Asharq Al-Awsat report, saying in a statement released by the state-run SANA news agency Saturday that the publication of those details were part of an “attempt to paint Israel as a humane country.”
The release of the young woman was secured in recent days after over a week of diplomatic wrangling. She landed at Ben Gurion International Airport on a flight from Russia in the early hours of Friday morning.
On Saturday evening, Channel 12 and Channel 13 published several images of the woman that were blurred, to prevent her from being identified.
The pictures, as well as video clips, taken from her Facebook page, show the woman out and about in natural surroundings.
A report by Channel 13 news said the woman suffers from “personal problems,” and was being treated gently and not being questioned aggressively over her crossing of the border into Syria earlier this month. The Shin Bet debriefing of the woman was expected to continue all weekend.
The woman crossed the border into Syria on February 2 in the foothills of Mount Hermon, an area where there is minimal fencing and spotty surveillance camera coverage. It was not immediately clear how she knew that that location was a good spot to cross. The military said it was investigating the incident.
After crossing into Syria overnight, she entered the Druze village of Khader, where she was captured on suspicion of being a spy and handed over to Syrian intelligence. However, according to Channel 13, authorities quickly realized she was not a spy, but rather a civilian with personal issues.
Damascus told Russia of the matter, and Moscow passed along the information to Israel, prompting negotiations to get her back.
On Friday afternoon, Netanyahu spoke with the woman’s mother, who thanked him for the efforts to free her from captivity, according to a statement from the premier’s office. Netanyahu gave her his well-wishes and said Israel would always act to return captive citizens.