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Egypt to free Israeli American as part of prisoner swap

October 24, 2011 | 12:55 pm

REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Israel and Egypt announced a prisoner swap Monday that will free American Israeli citizen Ilan Grapel, who was arrested four months ago in Cairo on suspicion that he spied for Israel and incited antigovernment unrest.

New York-born Grapel, who obtained Israeli citizenship in 2005, will be exchanged for 25 Egyptians being held in Israeli jails, according to a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli officials, as well as Grapel’s friends and family, denied that the 27-year-old worked for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. They described the Emory University law school student as an idealistic, sometimes naive, adventure seeker with a keen interest in Arabic language and culture.

Egyptian media said he entered the country illegally, posing as a journalist. His mother told Israeli media that he arrived in May for a temporary stint with St. Andrew's Refugee Services, a nonprofit refugee assistance agency. On his Facebook page, Grapel posted pictures of himself holding protest signs at Cairo demonstrations called to demand a quicker transition to democracy.

Grapel’s parents moved from Israel to the U.S. in 1974. Their son immigrated to Israel and began his mandatory military service. He served as a paratrooper and was injured in the 2006 Lebanon war. Later he returned to the U.S. to attend law school.

Netanyahu’s security Cabinet is expected to formally approve the swap Tuesday. Israeli officials said none of the prisoners to be released are accused of security-related crimes and that three are minors. U.S. officials assisted in the negotiations.


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-- Edmund Sanders

Photo: Ilan Grapel is shown in a file photo taken in 2006 after he was injured during the Lebanon war. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Monday that Egypt has agreed to release Grapel, who has been held since June on espionage charges, as part of a prisoner swap. Credit: Ancho Gosh / Associated Press