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.

The negotiations could be completed within hours, Egyptian-state newspaper Al- Ahram’s online edition reported, citing Egyptian parliamentarians.

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 prison.

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 locked up.

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.

Druse MK 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 firmly denied.

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 report.

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