Israel frees 25 Egyptians in exchange for ‘Israeli spy’

Israel swapped 25 Egyptians for an US-Israeli national Ilan Grapel who was detained in Egypt on espionage charges after it gets Israeli soldier Shalit released from Gaza in return for 1027 Palestinian prisoners.
People look at police standing guard at the Taba crossing between Egypt and Israel. Egyptians gathered at the border awaiting the handover of prisoners. REUTERS photo.

People look at police standing guard at the Taba crossing between Egypt and Israel. Egyptians gathered at the border awaiting the handover of prisoners. REUTERS photo.

An accused US-Israeli spy was yesterday flown to Tel Aviv from the Egyptian border town of Taba as part of a prisoner swap that will see 25 Egyptian prisoners freed, Egyptian state television reported.

Ilan Grapel, who was arrested in Cairo in June, “is being flown to Tel Aviv from Taba following a medical check-up,” it said.

The Egyptian prisoners, all convicted of smuggling drugs or weapons, or infiltrating Israel illegally, left a jail in southern Israel yesterday and were being bused to the border with Egypt ahead of a swap for a U.S.-Israeli citizen jailed in Cairo on suspicion of espionage.

Grapel, 27, was arrested on June 12 and accused by Egypt’s military rulers of being an agent of Israel’s Mossad spy agency and of sowing sectarian strife during the uprising which ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February.

Israel has strongly denied the charges, insisting the whole thing was a mistake and accusing Egyptian authorities of “bizarre behaviour.”

The Israeli Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected an 11th-hour appeal saying the planned prisoner exchange was a political decision which they had no authority to intervene in. Israel’s security cabinet on Oct.25 approved the deal to free 25 Egyptians held in Israeli jails, three of them minors, in exchange for the release of Grapel, none of them held for security offences. The returning Egyptian prisoners, all of them Bedouin, were to be received at an official reception at a Taba hotel attended by the governors of North and South Sinai, as well as representatives of the Bedouin community in the area.

The prisoner exchange comes shortly after Egypt mediated the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held in Gaza for more than five years, in return for the release of 1027 Palestinian detainees. It also comes amid strained relations between Israel and Egypt since Mubarak’s overthrow in February. Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with the Israel but relations have soured amid popular anger over the Israeli-led blockade of the Gaza Strip and deadly border incidents in the Sinai peninsula.

Compiled from AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.

Thursday, October 27, 2011
CAIRO