Woman who entered Syria said to tell investigators she was ‘seeking adventure’

Civilian who was held by Syrian regime and then returned via Moscow reportedly expresses no regrets for crossing border: ‘Syria was, for me, another destination for a trip’

The Israeli woman who crossed into Syria and was returned in a deal brokered by Russia, in a picture shown by Channel 13 on February 20, 2021 (Channel 13 screenshot)
The Israeli woman who crossed into Syria and was returned in a deal brokered by Russia, in a picture shown by Channel 13 on February 20, 2021 (Channel 13 screenshot)

An Israeli woman who crossed into Syria two weeks ago, and was returned under a murky deal brokered by Russia, reportedly told investigators that she was “seeking adventure” and did not apologize or express regret for the trip.

The woman’s crossing became a major international incident. Her return involved over a week of diplomatic wrangling and came at a steep cost.

Investigators from the Shin Bet security service finished questioning the woman on Sunday night. The woman was then transferred to police custody and is expected to be placed under house arrest.

Reports stressed that she was questioned gently by the interrogators and is believed to be troubled.

Investigators determined that she did not cooperate with any enemy entities in Syria and are weighing whether to charge her with any offenses.

“I was seeking adventure, and didn’t intend to meet anyone specific,” Channel 12 reported that she told investigators. “Syria was, for me, another destination for a trip.”

The woman is reportedly in her 20s, from the city of Modiin Illit and a fluent speaker of Arabic.

Her Facebook page shows her traveling often inside Israel, including in several Arab areas, and in the West Bank.

An Israeli military outpost in the Golan Heights is pictured from the Syrian town of Quneitra on March 26, 2019. (Louai Beshara/AFP)

In one post, she wrote, “I don’t recognize your lines, either green or blue or purple, and not even a red line will stop me.”

The so-called Green Line marks the 1967 borders between Israel and the West Bank, the Blue Line refers to the UN-demarcated border between Israel and Lebanon and the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria is known as the Purple Line.

In another post, she wrote, “No one will restrict my movement or block the air I breathe, even if I die tomorrow or the next second. Until my final moment, I will be free.”

In another: “I am the eternal nomad. Always feel at home in my present place and a stranger in my birthplace.”

One of her former classmates from an ultra-Orthodox boarding school for girls told Channel 12 that the woman had been an upbeat and sociable person.

“I don’t understand how she got into this situation,” the former classmate said.

The venture into Syria was not the woman’s first brush with forbidden borders.

She 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 had been seen near the border in an SUV with an open window in October 2020.

A picture released by a Hezbollah affiliated journalist shows an Israeli woman watching the Lebanese border in October 2020. The photo has been altered by The Times of Israel to conceal the woman’s identity, in line with censorship requirements. The photo could not be independently verified. (Ali Choeib via Twitter)

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.

The woman was returned to Israel on 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 picture, have been censored by the military.

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 Israel had also agreed to buy $1.2 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 woman 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.

The woman crossed 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.

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