Egypt, Israel prepare for prisoner exchange

AFP , Thursday 27 Oct 2011

Egypt and Israel will exchange Thursday afternoon alleged spy Ilan Grapel and 25 Egyptians convicted of smuggling and illegaly crossing the border into Israel

Ilan Grapel, a US-Israeli citizen arrested in Egypt on spying charges, sits between Israel Hasson, right, and lawyer Yitzhak Molcho, left, in Cairo, Egypt, (Photo: AP).

Israel and Egypt prepared Thursday for a prisoner swap by which Cairo will free a US-Israeli man accused of espionage in exchange for the release of 25 Egyptians jailed in Israel.

The exchange is expected to occur late Thursday afternoon, with Israel transferring 25 Egyptians to Sinai via the Taba border crossing, as US-Israeli citizen Ilan Grapel is flown to Tel Aviv.

The Egyptian prisoners, all convicted of smuggling drugs or weapons, or infiltrating Israel illegally, have already been moved to a staging prison in Beersheba, Israeli prison services spokeswoman Sivan Weizman told AFP.

Around noon, they will be moved to the Israeli border town of Eilat. Their transfer into Egypt is scheduled for around 5:00pm (1500 GMT), Weizman said.

Around the same time, US-Israeli citizen Grapel, arrested four months ago in Cairo, will fly from the Egyptian capital to Tel Aviv.

Israeli media reported that Grapel was expected to land in Tel Aviv around 6:00pm local time (1600 GMT) and would be taken to Jerusalem to meet briefly with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu before flying to New York.

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.

Israel published the names of the 25 prisoners on 25 October, giving Israeli citizens 48 hours to file legal challenges against their release.

But there has been little domestic opposition to the release of the prisoners, who reportedly include three minors who illegally crossed into Israel to sell cigarettes, and Israel's high court rejected a lone legal challenge.

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

Israel has strongly denied the charges, insisting the whole matter was a mistake while accusing Egyptian authorities of "bizarre behaviour".

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.

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