Last updated: 24 October, 2011

Egypt and Israel agree swap of alleged spy for prisoners

Egypt and Israel said Monday they have finalised arrangements to exchange an alleged Israeli spy for 25 Egyptians held in Israeli jails, on the heels of a Hamas-Israel prisoner swap.

“A final agreement has been reached to release Israeli spy Ilan Grapel for 25 Egyptian prisoners, including three children,” Egypt’s state TV said.

According to the official MENA news agency, the swap is expected to take place “in the next two days.”

“Egypt has agreed to release Ilan Grapel and at Egypt’s request Israel has agreed to free 25 Egyptian prisoners,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

The deal is subject to the approval of Israel’s 14-member security cabinet which is due to convene on Tuesday, the statement said. But it is highly unlikely to reject the agreement.

According to the statement, the Egyptians lined up for release — including three minors — are not security prisoners.

Grapel, a dual US-Israeli national held since June 12, is accused of being an agent of Israel’s Mossad spy agency and of sowing sectarian strife during Egypt’s 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.”

On Saturday, Egypt said it was adding the “final touches” to the deal.

Officials on both sides had hinted for weeks that a swap deal was imminent but the number of Egyptian prisoners to be released remained unclear.

“After Egyptian efforts, the number of Egyptian prisoners held in Israeli jails to be released will be increased to between 20 and 30 prisoners,” a high-level official told MENA on Saturday.

The state agency had initially said 16 Egyptians would be released in the deal, in addition to three children.

Last week, unnamed Israeli officials told public radio that 81 Egyptians held in the Jewish state would be released.

According to Egyptian state media, the three Egyptian children were acquitted in a court of illegally crossing into Israel to sell cigarettes, but prosecutors appealed the ruling.

Egyptian media published photographs of Grapel after his arrest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the uprising that toppled Mubarak, inside a mosque and in a downtown Cairo bar.

The deal comes after the October 18 launch of an Egyptian-brokered prisoner swap under which Israel agreed to release a total of 1,027 Palestinians over two months in exchange for captive soldier Gilad Shalit.

Details of Egypt’s own deal were first reported by state-owned Al-Ahram daily, which said an accord was close “in which the spy Ilan Grapel… will be released in return for all Egyptians held in Israeli prisons.”

Israel is holding 81 Egyptian prisoners, including the three children, most of whom face criminal charges, including illegal entry to Israel, drug trafficking and arms possession.

“The success of the Egyptian mediation of the Shalit deal and Israel’s formal apology to Egypt for the death of Egyptian soldiers killed on the border by Israeli fire certainly cleared the road for making the Grapel deal,” Al-Ahram said.

Six Egyptian policemen were killed by Israeli fire on August 18 as Israeli troops chased Palestinian gunmen who carried out a series of shooting attacks near the border that killed eight Israelis.