Israel, Egypt reach swap deal to free suspected spy

Ilan Grapel, a U.S.-Israeli citizen arrested June 12 on suspicion of spying, is pictured on Egyptian newspapers dated June 13.

Story highlights

  • An Egyptian general says Israel wanted another prisoner included in the swap
  • Grapel is charged with espionage and incitement to burn government buildings
  • U.S. Secretary of State Clinton said last week the U.S. was "hopeful" for his release
  • Israel denies that the 27-year-old with U.S. and Israeli citizenship is a spy
Israel and Egypt have reached a prisoner swap agreement that would free a man with Israeli and U.S. citizenship whom Egypt suspected of being a spy.
"As a result of the efforts made by Israel and Egypt, and accommodated by the United States, Egypt has agreed to release Ilan Grapel," the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Monday.
Israel denies Grapel is a spy.
Israel agreed to free 25 Egyptian prisoners, including three minors, the prime minister's office said.
As part of the agreement, "Israel clarifies that the prisoners being released are not security prisoners," the statement said.
The deal needs to be confirmed by Israel's Security Cabinet, which will meet Tuesday, the prime minister's office said.
Grapel, 27, was arrested June 12 on suspicion of spying.
A general in Egyptian intelligence, speaking on condition of anonymity, described 22 of the 25 to be released by Israel as "political prisoners." The exchange will take place within two days through the Taba border crossing. The three minors are between ages 12 and 14, he said.
The general also said Israel wanted to include another prisoner in the swap, but Egypt refused.
An Israeli official said Israel does not consider the Egyptian prisoners it is freeing to be "political prisoners."
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States was "hopeful" that Grapel would be released. Speaking to the media during a visit to Libya, she answered a question about reports that Grapel may be released, saying, "We see no basis for any legal action against him."
Adel Saeed, spokesman for Egypt's general prosecutor's office, said that on October 15, "Grapel's detention was extended for 15 days for further investigations." He is charged with espionage and incitement to burn government buildings, Saeed said.
After Grapel's arrest in June, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio he had no idea why Grapel was detained.
Grapel was taken into custody in a five-star hotel in downtown Cairo, Saeed said.
Grapel's mother said he had been staying at a $9-a-night youth hostel.
Speaking to CNN from her home in New York after her son's arrest, Irene Grapel said there was "no chance" that Ilan was a spy.
Grapel is a former paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces.
When arrested in June, he was a rising third-year student at Emory University's law school in Atlanta, school officials said.
"Law students don't have time to be spies," Grapel's mother said.
Irene Grapel said her son traveled to Cairo in May to volunteer at St. Andrews Refugee Services, a Cairo-based nongovernmental organization.
The organization's assistant director, Fiona Camera, told CNN that Grapel worked for them for four days.
His mother said his work could have been what led Egyptian authorities to focus on him.
"He loves the Arab culture. He loves the Arab religion," she said.
Grapel speaks Arabic, which he studied at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and he spent his junior year at Ben Gurion University in Israel.
"He gravitates toward Arabic-speaking students on campus so he can speak with them, simply to use the language," Irene Grapel said.
Saeed, the general prosecutor spokesman, said in June that Grapel had participated in the Lebanon war of 2006 and was relieved of field combat duties after being injured. Investigators had been following his activities for months, Saeed said.
The Israeli government allegedly sent Grapel to Egypt after the January 25 revolution to take advantage of the security vacuum by recruiting others to provide the Israelis with military and political information, Saeed said.
The U.S. State Department said in June that Egyptian authorities provided the United States with "almost immediate consular access" to Grapel.