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Syria, Israel to exchange captives in breakthrough deal brokered by Russia

In a surprise development, Syrian announced on February 17 that it will be exchanging prisoners with Israel under a deal brokered by Russia.

According to a statement released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), under the breakthrough deal Israel will release two Syrian captives, Nihal Almukt and Dhiab Qahmuz, from its prions.

Last year, Nihal, a native of the occupied Syrian town of Majdal Shams in al-Golan Heights, was sentenced to three years in jail by Israeli court for anti-occupation activities. Qahmuz, from the Israeli-occupied town of Ghajar on the Syrian-Lebanese border, was sentenced in 2016 for 14 years in jail for cooperating with Hezbollah.

In return for the release of the two captives, Syria will release an Israel girl who was arrested after accidently crossing into the country a while ago. The girl’s identity is yet to revealed.

“The exchange process is currently taking place under Russian mediation,” the SANA’s statement reads.

This was the second deal between Syria and Israel in the recent years. In 2019, Israel recovered the remains of Zachary Baumel, a U.S.-born Israeli soldier missing since a 1982 tank battle against the Syrian Arab Army. Russia facilitated the recovery efforts. Several Syrian prisoners were released from Israeli jails in return.

A day earlier, the Israel cabinet held an urgent meeting in Tel Aviv on a “humanitarian issue tied to Syria.” The deal was likely approved during the meeting.

The deal will not likely be the last one.

Israel is still on the look for the remains of two soldiers and a spy, Eli Cohne, who were buried in Syria. According to recent reports, Russian and Syrian forces are currently carrying out an operation to locate the remains.