Ilan Grapel To Be Released By Egypt for 25 Prisoners


ilan-grapelEgypt will release a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen held since June on suspicion of spying in exchange for 25 Egyptians jailed in Israel under a deal reached with the help of Washington, Israeli officials said today.

A statement from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu said that Egypt had agreed to release Ilan Grapel, who has been held in Egypt since June 12. The Egyptian government had said on Shabbos that it was close to finalizing the prisoner swap.

Israel will release 25 Egyptians, including three minors, none of them jailed for security offenses, the Israeli statement said.

The deal, subject to approval on Tuesday by Israel’s security cabinet, comes after Egypt brokered an agreement between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement for the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a captive Israeli soldier, Sgt. Gilad Shalit.

An Egyptian security official in the Sinai said the swap would likely take place Tuesday or Wednesday at the Taba border crossing in the south. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to reporters.

Grapel, 27, was accused by Egypt of acting as an Israeli agent who had been tasked with gathering intelligence about Egypt’s revolution and inciting clashes with the military.

Relatives and friends called the accusations absurd and pointed out that an undercover Israeli spy would not have posted photos of himself on Facebook wearing an Israeli military uniform. Grapel, a law student at Emory University in Atlanta, immigrated to Israel in 2005 and was wounded as a soldier in Israel’s 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. His family said he was working for a refugee aid group in Cairo when he was arrested.

Egyptian authorities have not yet prosecuted Grapel, but in recent months local media reports, citing anonymous Egyptian officials, suggested his legal problems were mounting.

The Egyptian cabinet of ministers, which is subservient to the ruling military council, announced Saturday that it would turn over Grapel for an unspecified number of Egyptians in Israeli prisons.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Amr Roushdy said there are 81 Egyptians in Israeli custody. He said he had no details on how soon the exchange would take place or what kind of prisoners would be released.

Roushdy said Egypt negotiated the deal after families of Egyptians in Israeli custody asked the government to secure the release of their loved ones following last week’s landmark prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta brought up Grapel’s case during a recent visit to Cairo, and it has been among the most contentious bilateral issues between Cairo and Washington since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in February. The detention of westerners in the absence of solid evidence was exceptionally rare during the Mubarak era.

Since the military assumed control of the country, it has blamed much of the unrest of the past few months on foreigners it says are working to undermine the country’s future.

A spokeswoman at the U.S. embassy in Cairo said she had no information to release about the reported agreement.

{Washington Post, Yair Israel}