Israel releases man convicted of spying for Syria

Sidqi Al-Maqt, from the Druze community in the annexed Golan Heights, was jailed in 2015 to 11 years for spying, treason, contact with a foreign agent and transfer of information to the Syrian government. (Twitter)
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Updated 10 January 2020

Israel releases man convicted of spying for Syria

  • Sidqi Al-Maq was jailed in 2015 to 11 years for spying, treason, contact with a foreign agent and transfer of information to the Syrian government

JERUSALEM: Israel has announced the release of two prisoners — one of whom was convicted of spying for Syria — as part of a swap deal brokered by Russia.
Sidqi Al-Maqt, from the Druze community in the annexed Golan Heights, was jailed in 2015 to 11 years for spying, treason, contact with a foreign agent and transfer of information to the Syrian government.
He had already spent several years behind bars in Israel for spying.
“Security prisoner Sidqi Al-Maqt will be released tomorrow (Friday) January 10, before the scheduled end of his imprisonment,” Israel’s prison authority said late Thursday.
Authorities also announced the early release of another Golan resident, Amal Abu Saleh, who was jailed for the murder of a Syrian who crossed the Israeli border. He had been due to remain behind bars until 2023.
The early releases are a “gesture of goodwill” after the repatriation to Israel last year of the remains of Zachary Baumel, an Israeli soldier missing since the 1982 war in Lebanon, the prisons authority said.
Israeli authorities had promised the release of two Syrian prisoners after the repatriation of the remains.
According to Israeli media, the release of Maqt and Abu Saleh was delayed because the two men wanted to return to the town of Majdal Shams in the annexed Golan Heights, rather than travel to Syrian-held territory.
Maqt told Syrian state news agency SANA his release was “without conditions and that is a victory of the will of the Syrians over the will of the occupier.”
SANA said Maqt had been released in August 2012 after 27 years in Israeli detention.
“He was re-arrested on February 25, 2015... after he documented cooperation between the Israeli occupying army and the terrorists of Al-Nusra Front,” it said, referring to Syria’s then Al-Qaeda affiliate.
After midnight, SANA said Abu Saleh has arrived at his birthplace of Majdal Shams.
Some 23,000 Druze still live in the part of the Golan Heights Israel seized from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed in a move not recognized by most of the international community.
The majority still consider themselves Syrian.


Iran shuts government offices, tightening virus restrictions

Updated 11 min 55 sec ago

Iran shuts government offices, tightening virus restrictions

  • The report did not specify how long the closures would last
  • It asked Iranians to postpone any planned visits to government offices

TEHRAN: Iran on Friday announced that all government offices will effectively close and operate with only essential staff, further tightening coronavirus measures as the country struggles to contain its most widespread wave of infection yet.
Starting this Saturday — the first day of Iran’s workweek — state TV said “only those employees who need to be present will be at work” in government offices. Managers will make the call on who must still come to work.
The report did not specify how long the closures would last, but asked Iranians to postpone any planned visits to government offices.
Infections have soared in recent months, and on Friday, Iran again set a record for new virus cases in a single day with 14,051 cases, bringing the total to 922,397.
Iran has also recorded more than 400 daily virus deaths since last Saturday, the same day new tightened restrictions went into effect. Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said the death toll on Friday reached 47,095, after 406 people died since Thursday.
Since Saturday, some government offices and organizations had closed or began working with less than 30% of their employees, while banks, post offices, communications and other utilities worked with half their staff.
Those new lockdown measures also included shuttering most businesses, shops, malls, and restaurants, and are set to last two weeks.
Iran’s government had recently resisted shutting down the country in an attempt to salvage an economy cratered by unprecedented American sanctions, which effectively bar Iran from selling its oil internationally. The Trump administration reimposed sanctions in 2018 after withdrawing from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Earlier this month, authorities ordered a month-long nightly curfew for businesses in Tehran and 30 other major cities and towns, asking nonessential shops to keep their workers home. Still, enforcement in the sprawling metropolis remains a challenge.