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Egypt returns accused spy to Israel in swap deal

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 1:13 PM EDT, Thu October 27, 2011
Ilan Grapel, a U.S.-Israeli citizen arrested June 12 on suspicion of spying, is pictured on Egyptian newspapers dated June 13.
Ilan Grapel, a U.S.-Israeli citizen arrested June 12 on suspicion of spying, is pictured on Egyptian newspapers dated June 13.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Grapel landed in Israel, Israeli police say
  • Egyptian officials hold a celebration at the border as the 25 prisoners return
  • Details of his return are kept secret
  • Israel denies that the 28-year-old is a spy

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Ilan Grapel, an Israeli-American accused of spying for Israel, returned to Israel on Thursday, Israeli police said.

Grapel's flight from Cairo landed and he was being received by officials at Ben Gurion Airport, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Israel has steadfastly denied Grapel was a spy.

Egypt returned Grapel in exchange for 25 Egyptian prisoners.

Earlier Thursday, Egyptian officials celebrated their return by bus at the Taba crossing. They were given flowers and Egyptian flags. Some of their family members were there, along with Egyptian TV cameras.

Tribal sheiks were on hand to officially confirm the identities of the prisoners.

Details of Grapel's return were cloaked in secrecy.

Egyptian officials earlier Thursday reported that Grapel had been turned over to Israeli authorities and was returning via the Taba crossing, but later announced that he flew out of Cairo.

"We have received the 25 Egyptians and Grapel has left from Cairo airport on a plane to Tel Aviv," an Egyptian intelligence official said, adding that "we were instructed to not announce the exact details of the transfer for security reasons."

An Israeli Prison Service spokeswoman said the 25 Egyptians were leaving a prison in southern Israel Thursday morning and were being taken by bus to the Israel/Egypt border.

Grapel was arrested June 12 on suspicion of spying. Israel denies Grapel is a spy. Grapel turned 28 while in Egyptian custody.

Nine of the 25 Egyptian prisoners were incarcerated for drug smuggling, nine others were jailed for weapons violations and one was jailed for both drug and weapons charges. The remaining prisoners were jailed for smuggling other goods, Israeli prison officials said.

Egyptian officials have said that a majority of the inmates were 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."

Grapel, who holds Israeli and U.S. citizenship, is a former Israeli paratrooper.

At the time of his arrest in Egypt, he was a law student with Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States, a school official said.

Egyptian officials said Israel sent him to Egypt to recruit informants in the chaos that followed the January 25 revolution that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, but Israeli officials deny the accusations.

His mother told CNN that Grapel had traveled to Cairo for volunteer work.

CNN's Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Kevin Flower contributed to this report

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