Jerusalem and Cairo are involved in intensive negotiations to secure the release
of Ouda Tarabin, the Israeli Beduin jailed in Egypt for over a decade for
espionage, Egyptian media reported Wednesday.
Egypt’s state-run Al-Ahram
newspaper reported that Tarabin and several other Israelis convicted of spying
would be exchanged for 65 Egyptians held in Israeli jails.
reported that Egyptian authorities have also been in contact with their Israeli
counterparts in order to ascertain the conditions of Egyptian prisoners who last
month joined hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in an indefinite hunger
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
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
Speculation over Tarabin’s release began during last year’s
US-mediated Egyptian-Israeli negotiations for the release of Ilan Grapel, an
Israeli-American law student held for nearly five months on charges of spying
for Israel. Grapel was freed last October year in exchange for 25 Egyptian
At the time, Druse MK Ayoub Kara (Likud)
unsuccessfully lobbied US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro to include Tarabin in the
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. Tarabin now occupies the same
cell in a Cairo jail where Azzam was once held.