Grapel prisoner exhcange 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
The 25 Egyptian prisoners to be swapped for dual US-Israeli citizen Ilan Grapel arrived at the Taba crossing between Israel and Egypt on Thursday afternoon, Israel Radio reported.
A convoy of three minibuses escorted by police vehicles transported the prisoners to the border crossing from Eilat.
Timeline: Five months on Egyptian detention
MK Hasson: Ilan Grapel treated fairly in Egyptian prison
wary of Egyptian public's response to Grapel deal'
charges Grapel with setting fire to police stations'
The transfer of the prisoners by the Israel Prison
Service (IPS) marked the beginning of the exchange procedures.
A private jet departed later on Thursday afternoon from Israel to Cairo to return Grapel to Israel. Grapel, who has been held in Egypt for five months on spying charges, is
expected to land at Ben-Gurion Airport at about 5 p.m., and then drive to
Jerusalem for a brief meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
The two Israelis who
negotiated Grapel’s release with the Egyptians –
Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho and Kadima MK and former deputy Shin Bet
(Israel Security Agency) head Yisrael Hasson – boarded the jet to Cairo along with Grapel’s mother.
Meanwhile Egyptians gathered at the border with Israel on Thursday awaiting
the handover of the prisoners.
The United States, which
provides the army that now runs Egypt with billions of dollars in
military aid, had called for Grapel's release. Analysts said the
exchange provided a cover for Egypt to resolve diplomatic strains with
"I consider it a cover for returning this spy with pressure from the United States," said political analyst Hassan Nafaa.
release of those 25 represents a cover that has no meaning in fact. It
does not harm Israel and it does not significantly benefit Egyptians,"
he added. Many of those detained by Israel were convicted of smuggling
The US-brokered exchange deal was reached shortly after
the much more high-profile, Egyptian-brokered swap between Israel and
Hamas that freed captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners.
All of the Egyptian prisoners, according to
information supplied by the Prison Service, were serving time for criminal –
rather than terrorist-related – offenses. The group of prisoners also includes
"We just want to see our brother. It is a good
thing from Egypt to work on freeing them," said Mohamed el-Swarky, whose
brother, Ashraf Abdallah, 18, was one of those being released.
The exchange has been set in motion following the High Court
of Justice's refusal of two petitions against the deal late Wednesday
The High Court debated the appeals, but – as it did last week in the Schalit swap – denied
them on the grounds that these types of exchanges are within the government’s
Joanna Paraszczuk, Herb Keinon and Ben
Hartman contributed to this report.