Ilan Grapel Oct. 26, 2011
Ilan Grapel, with MK Yisrael Hasson (R) and lawyer Yitzhak Molcho (L) in Egypt.
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The prisoner exchange deal for the release of Israeli-American Ilan Grapel, who has been held in Egypt for four month on espionage charges, got underway on Thursday morning as a convoy carrying 25 Egyptian prisoners departed from Israel's Ella Prison en route to the southern border.

Grapel, 27, was detained in Egypt in June on accusations he was out to recruit agents and monitor events in the revolt that toppled former PresidentHosni Mubarak, an ally of Israel and the United States.

The convoy comprising nine Israel Prison Service vehicles headed for the Taba crossing near Eilat, where the 25 Egyptian prisoners were to be returned to their home country at 5 P.M.

Most of the prisoners to be released are Bedouin from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, who were jailed on charges of smuggling drugs or weapons. None were jailed for murder; three of them are minors. Three of the prisoners have already completed their sentences. Another five were supposed to be freed by the end of this year, one as early as next week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's special envoy, Isaac Molho, and MK Yisrael Hasson (Kadima), who conducted the negotiations for Grapel, were to fly to Cairo on Thursday at 3:30 P.M., together with Grapel's mother, who arrived in Israel on Wendesday.

The three will pick up Grapel and within less than an hour fly back to Ben-Gurion Airport, where Grapel will be escorted through the VIP lane.

The media will not be allowed to photograph Grapel's arrival in Israel or speak to him; the only pictures to be distributed will be those taken by the Government Press Office.

Once Grapel is en route to Israel, the Egyptian prisoners will be freed at the Taba border crossing.