An Israeli flag flutters next to an Egyptian one at the Nitzana crossing, along Israel's border with Egypt's Sinai desert (Photo: Reuters)
Egypt and Israel agreed on Thursday to exchange prisoners in a deal that sends Israeli Ouda Tarabin, convicted of espionage, back to Tel Aviv in exchange for the release of a number of Egyptians in Israeli prisons.
Ouda Tarabin, 34, has served his 15-year prison sentence, Egypt's state television reported.
Tarabin, an Arab Bedouin from the Negev Desert in Israel, was arrested in 2000 and convicted of spying after illegally crossing the Egypt-Israel border.
Two Egyptian prisoners were released as part of the exchange and an unspecified number of others may also be freed.
"Israel has released two Egyptian prisoners who were held in Israel and had finished serving their sentences," the Israeli government said in a statement, reported by Reuters.
It is not clear what charges the Egyptian prisoners were convicted on if any.
According to the Israeli government, Tarabin has returned to Israel, Reuters reported.
Tarabin was arrested in Sinai by Egypt's intelligence forces after illegally crossing the border from Israel.
The Egyptian authorities announced in 2004 that Tarabin was convicted in 2000 on charges of spying for Israel and was being held in Egypt’s Tora Prison.
Tarabin family's have maintained Ouda’s innocence, saying that he crossed the border only to visit his sister who lives in Sinai’s El-Arish.
The Tarabin family lived in the Sinai Peninsula until the 1979 peace treaty, which saw the return of Sinai, which was occupied by Israel after the 1967 war, to Egyptian control. At this time Ouda's family was relocated to the village of Dahaniyeh in the Gaza Strip before moving again in 1991 to Rahat in the Negev desert.
Tarabin is an extended tribe that has lived in Sinai for approximately 300 years. They were one of the most influential tribes in the Sinai Peninsula in the 19th century and the second largest in historic Palestine.
In early 2014, Ouda Tarabin penned a letter from prison to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, excoriating him for failing to secure his release.
“Unfortunately, your government hasn’t helped me simply because I’m an Arab, this is completely clear. If I were Jewish or Druze, you and your government would be fighting for my release and I wouldn’t be confined in Egyptian prison for 14 years,” Tarabin wrote.
The last prisoner swap between Egypt and Israel took place in October 2011. Israel swapped 25 jailed Egyptians — some convicted of smuggling — for Ilan Grapel, 27, who was detained in Egypt in June of that year on accusations of recruiting spies and monitoring events in the revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak.