Middle East/North Africa

Israel financing vaccine for Syria to secure prisoner’s release: report

Israeli officials secretly agreed to finance coronavirus vaccines for Syria in exchange for the release of an Israeli woman arrested for illegally entering Syria, The New York Times reported Sunday.

Under the terms of the deal, Israel will pay Russia, a backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to ship the Russian-produced vaccine to Syria.

In an interview Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not directly deny the arrangement, only saying no Israeli vaccines would be shipped to Syria and that he was “glad” the Israeli citizen had been freed.

“I won’t add any more,” Netanyahu said after thanking Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Syria and Israel do not have formal diplomatic relations and the two countries still contest the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in the 1960s. The Israeli government’s official announcement said the woman had been released in exchange for two Syrian shepherds captured by Israel, according to the Times.

The report also comes as Israel has given at least one dose of the vaccine to about half of its population. Meanwhile, only a few thousand doses have been supplied to the West Bank, where about 2.8 million Palestinians live.

The country has argued it is not responsible for providing health care to Palestinians under the terms of the Oslo Accords, while the Palestinians have argued that the fourth Geneva Convention names health care as one of the responsibilities of an occupying power, according to the Times.

“Israel is willing to provide vaccines to Syrians outside their borders, but at the same time not provide them to an enormous occupied population that they are legally responsible for,” researcher Khaled Elgindy, a onetime advisor to Palestinian leadership, told the newspaper. “That seems to be sending a message that they are deliberately trying to avoid their legal responsibility to look after the welfare of that occupied population.

The Hill has reached out to the Israeli foreign ministry for comment.

Tags Benjamin Netanyahu Coronavirus Vladimir Putin

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