'Cairo wants dozens of prisoners in exchange for Grapel'

‘Al-Ahram:’ Egyptians seek release of inmates held in jails in Israel and the United States in return for alleged spy.

By OREN KESSLER
October 11, 2011 01:21
3 minute read.
Ilan Grapel

ilan grapel. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Egypt is demanding the release of dozens of Egyptian prisoners in Israel in return for Ilan Grapel, the American- Israeli law student detained in Cairo since June on suspicion of spying for Jerusalem.

Al-Ahram newspaper reported that a top-ranking Egyptian military official discussed an Egyptian-Israeli prisoner exchange during US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s visit to Cairo last week. The deal would reportedly include some 25 of the 80 Egyptians held in Israel, most of them convicted of security-related offenses or border infiltration. The paper reported that some two dozen Egyptians could be released from US prisons as well.

Egyptian media have reported that Washington has threatened to reduce military aid to Egypt if Grapel remains detained, but has indicated willingness to increase aid should the US-Israeli dual citizen be released. Reports that Grapel could leave Cairo with the defense secretary turned out to be premature.

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US and Israeli officials, and Grapel’s family and friends, have dismissed allegations of espionage as “absurd,” and say the 27-year-old Emory University law student traveled to Egypt to volunteer with an organization aiding African refugees.

Maj.-Gen. Sameh Seif El-Yazel, described by Al-Ahram as a security expert, said a prisoner exchange could pave the way for discussions of modifying national security and armament agreements between Egypt and Israel.

“[T]here is a desire by both sides to hold a more critical dialogue about issues that were previously probed infrequently,” he said. “It would not do Egypt any good to keep the spy behind bars when there can be more benefits – this is standard procedure on such matters in most countries.”

This weekend the daily quoted Mohamed Said Lotfi, head of the campaign to free Egyptian prisoners from Israeli jails, as saying Grapel should not be released but should be tried as a spy.

“However, if he must be released, then the deal should be in return for the release of all Egyptian prisoners in Israeli jails,” he said.

Al-Ahram also reported that the son of Omar Abdel-Rahman (also known as the “Blind Sheikh”) has filed a request for his father to be included in a prospective exchange. Abdel- Rahman, leader of the radical group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyaa, is serving a life sentence in North Carolina for seditious conspiracy for his part in planning and promoting a series of terrorist attacks on US targets.

On Monday the Islamist group held a protest outside the American Embassy in Cairo calling for Abdel-Rahman’s release.

Last week Deputy Regional Development Minister Ayoob Kara asked US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro to demand that along with Grapel, Cairo release Ouda Tarabin, an Israeli Beduin shepherd held in Egypt for more than a decade after illegally crossing the border.

“This is the last chance [to secure Tarabin’s release] before the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. Everyone knows what they will do and what his fate will be,” the Likud lawmaker said.

In 1999 Tarabin was sentenced under Egypt’s Emergency Law to 15 years in prison for espionage, a crime his family and the Israeli government say he did not commit.

In 1996 Azzam Azzam, a Druse-Israeli textile worker, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after being convicted of espionage, a charge both he and the Israeli government denied. Following the intervention of the Shin Bet, Azzam was released in 2004 in exchange for six Egyptians convicted of planning terror attacks.


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