Egypt agrees to release Ilan Grapel in prisoner swap


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Egypt has agreed to release dual American-Israeli citizen Ilan Grapel in exchange for 25 Egyptians being held in Israeli prisons.

The Egyptians, including three minors, are not security prisoners, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement on the deal released Monday evening. They are being held on charges such as crossing the border illegally, drug trafficking and holding unlicensed weapons, according to reports.

Grapel, arrested in Cairo in June, was accused of espionage. Later he was accused as well of incitement and the attempted arson of the country’s Interior Ministry building and police headquarters in Cairo during January’s riots in the capital.

The agreement is subject to the approval of Israel’s Security Cabinet, which will meet to discuss the swap Tuesday, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

The agreement comes less than a week after captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in an agreement reached with the terrorist organization Hamas.

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, hailed the agreement to effect the release of his
constituent and former intern. Grapel served as an intern in Ackerman’s office in Bayside, Queens, in the summer of 2002.

Ackerman intervened on behalf with Grapel with the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the prime minister of Israel and the U.S. State Department, a statement from his office said.

"For four long months, we worked tirelessly to win Ilan’s release, and at last this long and terrible ordeal that Ilan and his loved ones have been forced to endure is almost over," Ackerman said in the statement. "From the beginning, I was assured by the highest levels in Israel that in no way did Ilan have anything to do with espionage, the Mossad or any other type of spy agency."

Ackerman said Grapel "just found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time." Grapel has denied he is a spy and said he came to Egypt to intern for a nongovernmental organization that assists refugees from Sudan and elsewhere.

Egyptian security officials said Grapel entered the country shortly after the start of the Jan. 25 uprising that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and posed as a foreign correspondent. A law student at Emory University, Grapel allegedly said he was Muslim on the visa application that he filed with the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv and then entered Egypt using his American passport.

Grapel is a New Yorker who moved to Israel following his graduation from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He joined the Israeli army, served as a paratrooper during the Second Lebanon War and was wounded in Southern Lebanon in August 2006.

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