Molcho, Hasson land in Cairo as Grapel exchange underway

Two Israelis who negotiated for dual US-Israeli citizen's release start procedure to bring him back to Israel; Egyptian prisoners cross into Egypt at Taba crossing; Grapel to meet PM following arrival in Israel.

Grapel prisoner exhcange 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
Grapel prisoner exhcange 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
The two Israelis who negotiated for Ilan Grapel’s release with Egypt landed in Cairo on Thursday afternoon and were expected to greet the dual US-Israeli citizen. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho and Kadima MK and former deputy Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yisrael Hasson boarded a private jet to Cairo.
Grapel, who has been held in Egypt for five months on spying charges, is expected to land at Ben-Gurion Airport later in the day, and then drive to Jerusalem for a brief meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. RELATED:Timeline: Five months on Egyptian detentionMK Hasson: Ilan Grapel treated fairly in Egyptian prison'Cairo wary of Egyptian public's response to Grapel deal' 'Egypt charges Grapel with setting fire to police stations'
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.
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.