(JTA) — Israel is subsidizing the delivery of Russian coronavirus vaccines to Syria as part of a prisoner exchange, according to reports.
Israel last week announced that it had traded two Syrian shepherds who had crossed into Israel-held territory for a woman who had recently crossed into Syria. Russia brokered the deal.
On Sunday, The New York Times quoted an unidentified official who said Israel also paid Russia for an undisclosed number of vaccines for use in Syria. Similar reports had appeared in Israeli media, citing foreign sources. Syria’s official media denied the reports.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, asked by Israeli media about the reports, would only say that Israel had not delivered any of its own vaccines to Syria.
Reports that Israel was delivering its own vaccines to Syria likely would have escalated international criticism of Israel for not including West Bank Palestinians in its vaccine rollout. Israel says the Palestinian Authority is responsible under agreements and international law for vaccinating its population.
Israel has had one of the most successful vaccine rollouts in the world, and half its population has so far received the first of two shots. Syria, impoverished after a decade of civil war, has yet to roll out vaccinations.
The Times report also said that the unidentified Israeli woman who crossed into Syria comes from a Haredi Orthodox family who live in a West Bank settlement.