Negotiations for a prisoner-exchange deal that would see some 63 Egyptians
imprisoned in Israel freed for the return of Israeli Beduin Ouda Tarabin were in
their final stages Saturday, according to Egyptian media.
negotiations could be completed within hours, Egyptian-state newspaper Al-
Ahram’s online edition reported, citing Egyptian
Tarabin, 31, has been held in Egypt since 1999, when he
was sentenced in absentia under the country’s Emergency Law to 15 years in
prison for espionage.
Tarabin’s lawyer, Yitzhak Melzer, told Israel Radio
on Saturday that despite countless requests by the Foreign Ministry for Cairo to
release the official documents charging Tarabin, neither Israel nor Tarabin have
ever seen the indictment, charges or evidence that landed him in
Tarabin was convicted without being present at his own trial,
Melzer explained, opining that it was a “paranoid belief” that the Beduin man
was in fact an Israeli spy compelling the Egyptian authorities to keep Tarabin
The Tarabin Beduin are a large tribe spread across the Negev
and Sinai. In the Negev, the Tarabins’ territory is concentrated around
Beersheba, while in Sinai, their lands are situated along the Israeli border
south of the resort of El- Arish as well as on the Gulf of Suez and on the Red
Sea around Nuweiba.
Since the mid-1990s the tribe has been heavily
involved in smuggling, both across the Egypt-Israel border and to the Gaza
Strip. Still, the Israeli government and Tarabin’s family have rejected
accusations of espionage as baseless, and the prisoner’s brother maintains he
had crossed into Egypt merely to visit their sister in El-Arish.
Ayoub Kara (Likud) unsuccessfully lobbied US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro to
include Tarabin in the deal.
“I know there was great pressure by Israel
to free him along with Grapel,” Tarabin’s lawyer explained.
In 1996 Azzam
Azzam, an Israeli Druse textile worker, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor
after being convicted of espionage, a charge both he and the Israeli government
Following the intervention of the Shin Bet (Israel
Security Agency), Azzam was released in 2004 in exchange for six Egyptians
convicted of planning terror attacks.
Oren Kessler contributed to this