Israeli woman who wandered across border still trapped in Syria

Two Syrian security prisoners refuse to be sent to Damascus in exchange for Israeli woman who managed to cross the border to Syria.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The Russian-brokered deal for the release of an Israeli woman held in Syria has hit a roadblock as one of the two Syrian security prisoners released by Israel refused to go to Damascus, Ynet reported Thursday.

Nihal Al-Maqt, a Druze woman from the town of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, was released from house arrest and told Syrian television that she was free and her sentence for incitement had been annulled. Al-Maqt affiliates with some of the Golan Druze who oppose Israeli rule and maintain loyalty to Syria.

“At the beginning they offered me expulsion to Damascus. I refused,” Al-Maqt said, apparently from her home in the Golan. “Now they called from Moscow and got the authorization that I am home in my land with no conditions.”

Diyab Qahmuz, who was sentenced to 14 years in jail for helping the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, refused to be deported to Damascus and insisted on being sent to his home village of Ghajar that straddles the international border between Israel and Lebanon. While Israel presented Qahmuz as a Syrian, he apparently is a Lebanese national, Ynet reported.

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Questions also surround the circumstances of how the Israeli woman, apparently in her 20s, from the predominantly ultra-Orthodox town of Modiin-Illit, managed to cross the tightly patrolled border into Syria without the IDF stopping her.

The incident first came to light Tuesday evening as reports of a top-secret emergency cabinet meeting filtered out to the media with only vague details that it involved Syria, Israelis and Russian mediation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was using his personal relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin to resolve a “humanitarian” issue.

Initial speculation was that the remains of IDF soldiers missing since 1982 may have been found, given that Russia had previously brokered the return of the remains of soldier Zechariah Baumel in 2019.

“It is not clear why the entire government was convened for an urgent discussion on the approval of the deal. Are there any secret clauses in the deal that go beyond the return of the two Syrian terrorists and require the approval of the entire government?” tweeted veteran Arab affairs analyst Yoni Ben-Menachem of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. “Is that what is holding up the execution of the deal?”

On Wednesday, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that for the past two weeks Russian forces have been excavating in the cemetery of Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus.

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“It is assumed that the Russian side has achieved results regarding the remains of an Israeli soldier who was killed decades ago and buried there, according to the information, amid unconfirmed reports that the remains they search for may be of prominent Israeli agent Eli Cohen, who was killed in the 1960s,” the group said, referring to the famous Mossad secret agent who was captured and executed by the Syrians in 1965.