Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife have tested positive for the coronavirus, the president's office said Monday, per the AP. Both were tested after experiencing mild symptoms, says the statement, which adds that Assad, 55, and his wife, Asma, who is 10 years younger, were in "good health and in stable condition." Syria, which marks 10 years of war next week, has recorded nearly 16,000 virus cases in government-held parts of the country, including 1,063 deaths. But the numbers are believed to be much higher with limited amounts of tests being done, particularly in areas of northern Syria outside government control. The pandemic has been a major challenge for Syria's health care sector, already depleted by years of conflict.
Syria began a vaccination campaign last week, but no details have been given about the process. The health minister said the government procured the vaccines from a friendly country, which he declined to name. The announcement came days after international and Israeli media reports revealed that Israel paid Russia $1.2 million to provide the Syrian government with vaccines. It was reportedly part of a deal that secured the release of an Israeli woman held in Damascus, though the terms of the clandestine trade-off negotiated by Moscow remained murky. Damascus denied it happened and Russia had no comment. Israeli bankrolling of Syria’s vaccination efforts would be an embarrassment for Assad’s government, which considers Israel its main regional enemy. It was not immediately clear whether Assad or any of his family members have been vaccinated. (Read more Bashar al-Assad stories.)