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Ilan Grapel, U.S.-Israel Citizen Held In Egypt, To Be Freed

Ilan Grapel Freed

IAN DEITCH   10/24/11 05:52 PM ET   AP

JERUSALEM — A dual U.S.-Israeli citizen imprisoned in Egypt on spy suspicions since June will be released soon, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement Monday.

The statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Israel will release 25 Egyptian prisoners in exchange.

Ilan Grapel was arrested in Cairo on June 12 and has been held without charge since. Egypt's state TV confirmed that a deal was made and said the swap would be carried out on Thursday.

Grapel, 27, was suspected by Egyptian officials of spying for Israel during the height of Egypt's uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year. Israel and his relatives in the U.S. denied Grapel was a spy, saying he worked for a Cairo legal aid project.

The Israeli government will convene a special Security Cabinet meeting Tuesday to approve the deal, the statement said. The list of prisoners included in the deal will be published so that Israelis would be able to appeal. The swap can take place 48 hours after the prisoners' names are made public.

"In the framework of Israel and Egyptian efforts and with the help of the United States, Egypt has agreed to release Ilan Grapel. Israel has agreed to release 25 Egyptian prisoners," the statement said

The statement said there are no "security prisoners" on the list, Israeli shorthand for militants. It is assumed that the Egyptians to be freed are mostly smugglers working the porous border between the two countries, sneaking into Israel with contraband and people seeking asylum or work.

Among the 25 Egyptian prisoners to be exchanged will be three teenagers from the Sinai Peninsula, according to Egyptian security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because no statement was made.

Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979, but relations have never been warm. Since Mubarak's fall, the relationship has been shaken by widespread popular hatred of Israel in Egypt. The Schalit deal and the upcoming swap for Grapel could show that the two sides are trying to mend fences.

Last week Egypt was instrumental in mediating a deal that won freedom Schalit, who was held for more than five years Hamas. Under that deal, Israel freed 455 Palestinian prisoners and is set to free hundreds more in two months. Some were convicted in deadly attacks against Israelis, including involvement with suicide bombings.

Israeli officials said Grapel's release is not connected to the Schalit deal. They were speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Farid el-Atrash from Egypt's Sinai said he did not know if his brothers are included in the deal.

"They should have swapped all Egyptian prisoners, not just 25 for a spy," he said, speaking to The Associated Press. El-Atrash's brother Moussa was accused of spying on Israel for Egypt. His other two brothers, Ismail and Abdullah, are facing up to five years in prison for sneaking into Israel and working there illegally.

Grapel moved to Israel, where his grandparents live, as a young man and did his compulsory military service during the 2006 war between the Israeli military and Hezbollah, where he was wounded. Israeli news websites have published what they identified as wartime pictures of Grapel lying in his hospital bed.

Grapel later returned to the U.S. for law school.

His father, Daniel Grapel, spoke briefly to Israel's Channel 10 TV from his home in New York Monday evening. "I haven't been officially notified, but I do know that things are happening between the U.S, Egyptian and Israeli governments," he said.

Grapel's connections to Israel, including his past military service, are easy to find on the Internet, adding to doubts that he was a spy.

He appears to have traveled to Egypt under his real name and made no secret of his Israeli links, including his past military service.

Grapel graduated from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, in 2005 with a bachelor's degree in international studies and was planning to return to Emory for his third and final year of law studies.

Since Mubarak's ouster, Egypt's military rulers have often warned against what they call "foreign" attempts to destabilize the country. Egypt, like other Arab states, has a long history of blaming internal problems on Israel.

"The Arab world loves conspiracy theories, even when they are absurd. Grapel was accused of being a spy and other charges that seem to be taken from the fable of 1,001 Nights, because countries in the Arab world are very paranoid and have many enemies," said Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt

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Additional reporting from Aya Batrawy in Cairo.

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Filed by Eline Gordts  |