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Grapel to be released Oct. 27, pending cabinet approval
By TOVAH LAZAROFF AND OREN KESSLER
10/25/2011
Dual Israeli-US citizen to be released from Egyptian jail for 25 Egyptian prisoners held in Israeli jails; Security Cabinet set to approve deal.
 
Egypt agreed on Monday to release New Yorker Ilan Grapel, 27, a dual Israeli-US citizen who has been in jail on espionage charges since June 12. The Security Cabinet was scheduled to meet on Tuesday to approve a deal with Egypt, by which 25 Egyptian prisoners being held in Israel would be released in exchange for Grapel.

Once the cabinet gives its approval, the prisoner swap is expected to take place on Thursday, an Israeli official in Jerusalem and an Egyptian intelligence source in Cairo told Reuters.

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Israel, with the help of the United States, reached a deal with Egypt for the young man’s freedom, in exchange for the release of 25 non-security Egyptian prisoners held in Israeli jails. Three of the prisoners are minors.

Grapel, whose family lives in Queens, is a student at Emory Law School in Atlanta and has served in the Israeli army.

He had gone to Cairo to work in a legal aid organization.

Egypt accused Grapel of being an Israeli spy and inciting protesters against Egypt’s military. Israel and the Grapel family have denied the charges.

News of his possible release first surfaced just before Egypt helped broker a prisoner- exchange deal between Israel and Hamas to free Gilad Schalit.

US Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-New York) said, “Ilan’s release is terrific news.” Grapel had interned in Ackerman’s office and his family lives in the politician’s district in Queens.

Ackerman had actively lobbied for Grapel’s release and had personally contacted the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the prime minister of Israel and the US State Department. Ackerman thanked officials in Egypt, Israel and the US for their efforts on Ilan’s behalf.

“We cannot be more relieved and gratified that Ilan will finally be freed and that he will soon be reunited with his family. For four long months, we worked tirelessly to win Ilan’s release, and at last this long and terrible ordeal that Ilan and his loved ones have been forced to endure is almost over.

“From the beginning, I was assured by the highest levels in Israel that in no way did Ilan have anything to do with espionage, the Mossad or any other type of spy agency.

Ilan is a wonderful young man who loves Egypt and the Egyptian culture. He’s a person deeply committed to the cause of humanity and bringing people together, and just found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Ackerman.

“This is a great day for Ilan and his family and we share in the joy and relief that they are no doubt feeling” said Ackerman. “We cannot wait for Ilan to return home to Queens so that he and his parents can finally wrap their arms around each other.”

Egypt’s MENA news agency reported the exchange is scheduled to take place “over the next two days.” On Saturday, a high-level Egyptian official told MENA the swap would include “between 20 and 30 prisoners.”

Throughout last week conflicting reports emerged over the scope of the deal, with some Egyptian news outlets reporting Israel would release as few as 19 prisoners, and others predicting all 81 Egyptians held in Israel would be freed.

Egyptian media had reported that the three children to be released in the deal had been acquitted of illegally crossing into Israel to sell cigarettes, but had remained imprisoned after prosecutors appealed the ruling.

News of the impending deal has drawn comprehensive coverage in Egypt, a country engulfed in turmoil since president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February. In addition to Mubarak’s ongoing trial, preparations are underway for Egyptians’ first election in decades and sectarian violence has raised tension between Muslims and Coptic Christians.

On Sunday, Egypt’s state-run daily Al-Akhbar daily ran the lead headline, “Imminent agreement between Egypt and Israel regarding Ilan the spy.”

On Monday, conflicting reports emerged over whether a second Israeli citizen would be included in the deal: Ouda Tarabin – a Beduin shepherd held for over a decade on spying charges after illegally entering Egypt.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel is “doing its best” to ensure Tarabin’s release.
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