Grapel en route to Ben Gurion after being freed by Egypt

Dual US-Israeli citizen in good health, on his way to Israel, Hasson tells Israel Radio; Egyptian prisoners cross into Egypt via Taba crossing; Grapel speaks to mother on phone ahead of being reunited in Israel.

By JPOST.COM STAFF, REUTERS
October 27, 2011 17:19
2 minute read.
Minibuses carry Egyptian prisoners for Grapel deal

Grapel prisoner exhcange in Egypt 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)

 
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Ilan Grapel took off from Cairo on his way to Ben-Gurion Airport on Thursday after being freed from jail in Egypt. He was accompanied in a private jet by the Israeli representatives who negotiated for his release, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho and Kadima MK and former deputy Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yisrael Hasson.

Shortly before the plane took off, Hasson told Israel Radio that Grapel was in good health.

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Grapel, who has been held in Egypt for five months on spying charges, was expected to land at Ben-Gurion Airport within the next hour, and then drive to Jerusalem for a brief meeting with Netanyahu.

Grapel spoke over the phone with his mother who was also waiting at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Meanwhile, the 25 Egyptian prisoners to be swapped for Grapel crossed over into Egypt through the Taba crossing.


A convoy of three minibuses escorted by police vehicles transported the prisoners to the border crossing from Eilat.
The transfer of the prisoners by the Israel Prison Service (IPS) marked the beginning of the exchange procedures.

"Thanks be to God," Abdullah, one of the Egyptians being released, told Egyptian state television at the border, which interviewed several as they crossed one-by-one. Several bowed down in prayer.

Another, Rabia Suleiman, who had been serving a four-year jail term on drugs charges, was asked what he would do on his return: "I'll come here and find any job, and I won't go back."

The United States, which provides the army that now runs Egypt with billions of dollars in military aid, had called for Grapel's release.

US Congressman Gary Ackerman, who pressed for Grapel's release, travelled to Israel to accompany him back to the United States, his office said in a statement.



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 three minors.

The exchange was set in motion following the High Court of Justice's refusal of two petitions against the deal late Wednesday evening.

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 purview.

Joanna Paraszczuk, Herb Keinon and Ben Hartman contributed to this report.

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