Egyptian prisoners move toward border for Grapel exchange

Private jet leaves Israel for Cairo to retrieve Grapel; dual US-Israeli citizen to meet PM following arrival in Israel; Egyptians gather at Taba crossing awaiting the 25 prisoners to be returned.

Eyptians at Taba crossing R 311 (photo credit: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/ Reuters)
Eyptians at Taba crossing R 311
(photo credit: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/ Reuters)
The 25 Egyptian prisoners to be swapped for dual US-Israeli citizen Ilan Grapel departed for the Taba crossing between Israel and Egypt on Thursday afternoon. The transfer of the prisoners by the Israel Prison Service (IPS) marked the beginning of the exchange procedures.
A private jet departed later on Thursday afternoon from Israel to Cairo to return Grapel to Israel. Grapel, who has been held in Egypt for five months on spying charges, is expected to land at Ben-Gurion Airport at about 5 p.m., and then drive to Jerusalem for a brief meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
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The two Israelis who negotiated Grapel’s release with the Egyptians –  Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho and Kadima MK and former deputy Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yisrael Hasson – boarded the jet to Cairo along with Grapel’s mother.
Meanwhile Egyptians gathered at the border with Israel on Thursday awaiting the handover of the prisoners. The prisoners are scheduled to arrive at the border Thursday afternoon and the release procedures were expected to take two hours, according to Israel Radio.
The United States, which provides the army that now runs Egypt with billions of dollars in military aid, had called for Grapel's release. Analysts said the exchange provided a cover for Egypt to resolve diplomatic strains with Israel.
"I consider it a cover for returning this spy with pressure from the United States," said political analyst Hassan Nafaa.
"The release of those 25 represents a cover that has no meaning in fact. It does not harm Israel and it does not significantly benefit Egyptians," he added. Many of those detained by Israel were convicted of smuggling offenses.
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.
"We just want to see our brother. It is a good thing from Egypt to work on freeing them," said Mohamed el-Swarky, whose brother, Ashraf Abdallah, 18, was one of those being released.
The exchange has been 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.