WASHINGTON – Congressman Gary Ackerman has appealed personally to Egyptian authorities in the case of Ilan Grapel, who once worked as his intern and is now being held for allegedly spying for the Mossad.

“I’m speaking with Egyptian officials on a regular basis,” the New York Democrat told The Jerusalem Post on Friday. “I got assurances from Israel that this kid is not their kid,” i.e. a Mossad agent.

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Instead, Ackerman said that Grapel was a full-time law student whose schedule he had verified with the Emory University authorities to prove that he couldn’t have been engaged in espionage for the Mossad.

Ackerman said he has also been in close touch with the US State Department, and that all parties involved were acting professionally and seriously in the case.

Grapel interned for Ackerman, whose office is near his home in Queens, in the summer of 2002.

A dual citizen of America and Israel, he later served in the IDF and was wounded in the second Lebanon War, an incident that was well publicized.

The congressman described his former intern as “very liberal” and someone who “wants to help people in Egypt.” He said he was in the country to help refugees from nearby African countries who had fled to Egypt.

“This is like no good deed goes unpunished,” he said. “He did some things that are frankly foolish... but a spy – give me a break!” Ackerman is urging the Egyptians to finish their investigation and procedures as quickly as possible so the case can be resolved and Grapel doesn’t become a political pawn.

“We’re working very hard. His parents love him very much and are very concerned,” he said.

“They and I want him back in Queens as quickly as possible.”

Despite the current situation, Ackerman said he remains hopeful about Grapel’s fate.

“I have to be optimistic because he’s not a spy. He’s not involved in espionage,” he said.

“He’s the most unlikely spy anybody could ever imagine.”

Efforts to secure the release of Grapel continued over the weekend, with the Egyptian press reporting the Israeli and Egyptian authorities have met to discuss the situation.

According to reports in the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram and in the Hebrew media, Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Levanon met with the head of the Israeli desk in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to try to get the young man freed.

Also on Friday, Al-Ahram reported that Grapel, a 27-yearold American-Israel arrested in Cairo on Sunday for allegedly working for the Mossad to penetrate Egyptian political parties and activist groups to gather intelligence and foment sectarian strife, was visited by a US consular official who said he was in “deep trouble.”

Ben Hartman contributed to this report.

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