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Egypt could soon free American who allegedly spied for Israel

October 18, 2011 |  9:13 am

Ilan Chaim Grapel, an American citizen charged by Egypt with spying for Israel, could be freed soon
REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- An American citizen charged by Egypt four months ago with spying for Israel could be freed in coming days as part of an exchange that would include the release of more than 80 Egyptian prisoners held in Israeli jails, Egyptian state newspaper Al Ahram reported.

Al Ahram quoted "trusted" but unnamed security sources as saying that talks were nearly concluded between Egyptian and Israeli authorities to release Ilan Chaim Grapel, who also holds Israeli citizenship, in a swap for Egyptian prisoners.

The majority of Egyptian detainees are being held on nonpolitical charges, including illegal border-crossing, drug trafficking, illegal immigration and murder. The deal had been expected after Egyptian authorities successfully mediated an exchange between the militant group Hamas and Israel that Tuesday freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in return for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Shalit had been in Palestinian custody for five years after he was captured by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. On Tuesday, he arrived in Israel after crossing through Egypt while hundreds of Palestinian prisoners were being released by Israeli authorities.

Al Ahram reported that the success of the Shalit exchange deal, in addition to Israel's recent formal apology to Egypt in connection with the killing of five Egyptian soldiers in a border raid in August, would pave the way for Grapel's release.

A former Israeli paratrooper, Grapel was detained on June 12, when Egyptian authorities accused him of spying for Israel with the aim of harming Egypt's political and economic interests. Israeli officials denied that Grapel was connected to the Mossad, the county's intelligence service.

In talks with Egypt's ruling military council this month, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta attempted to broker a deal to release Grapel.

Grapel, 27, was attending Emory Law School in Atlanta and working with a nonprofit humanitarian organization in Cairo before his detention. Originally from Queens, N.Y., Grapel temporarily moved to Israel with his grandparents as a youth. He served in the Israeli army and was wounded during the 2006 war with Hezbollah before returning to the United States.

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-- Amro Hassan

Photo: Ilan Chaim Grapel during his service in the Israeli army. Credit: Reuters

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