A tale of bargaining chips and coronavirus diplomacy sees Israel supplying Assad with vaccines.

A secret clause in a prisoner exchange agreement between Israel and Syria could see Tel Aviv purchasing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for Damascus to the tune of more than $1 million.

The revelations, first published in the London-based news outlet Asharq Al-Awsat, came as Russia negotiated an agreement that saw a 23-year-old Israeli woman who strayed into Syria being exchanged for two shepherds kidnapped by the Israeli army.

The girl, according to reports, was from an orthodox Jewish background but had long since rebelled against her family. In the past, she had attempted to cross into Gaza three times before being apprehended by authorities and arrested. Her latest gambit saw her walking across the heavily militarised border into a nearby Syrian village.

A fluent Arabic speaker, the 23-year-old crossed into Syria more than two weeks ago in an apparent bid to practice her language skills before she was reported to local regime officials in Syria.

Syrian officials then contacted their Russian counterparts, who then contacted Israeli officials, as the two sides have no direct contact.

Following her capture, according to the US news outlet Axios, Israeli soldiers in the occupied Golan Heights were sent to the border with Syria "in search of bargaining chips" when two Syrian shepherds crossed the buffer zone, and Israel captured them.

Israel's move, however, contradicts a Canadian sponsored agreement the country signed in early February called the "Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations", forbidding states from conducting "arbitrary arrests or detention of foreign nationals...to exercise leverage over a foreign government is contrary to international law."

Initially, the prisoner swap was announced as a mutual exchange of prisoners between the states who have never recognised each other.

Details of the deal slowly leaked over the weekend, with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu evading questions on whether the country had agreed to supply vaccines to Syria. Instead, Netanyahu simply said that no Israeli vaccines would be shipped to Syria.

The deal struck between the two enemies was censored in Israel by the military. However, Israeli parliamentary members who are not covered by the censorship have coyly alluded to the vaccine clause.

One Arab member of the Israeli parliament, Ahmad Tibi, alluded to the deal in unusual terms on Twitter. Tibi urged the Israeli government to send Covid-19 vaccines to the occupied West Bank and Gaza, or he said, "Do we have to wait for a Jew to cross the border into Gaza to be vaccinated?"

The deal has also increased frustration amongst Palestinians who have yet to be vaccinated.

Israel, which has now vaccinated more than 50 percent of its population, has conversely made it harder for Palestinians to access the vaccine and shirked its responsibility under international law to supply vaccines as an occupying power.

The Syrian-Israeli agreement also highlights how scarce vaccine supplies are being used as a negotiating tool amongst nations in a bid to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Source: TRT World