Egyptians React With Mixed Feeling to Prisoner Swap With Israel

Families rejoice at prisoners' return, but lament that dozens of Egyptians remain incarcerated in Israel.

Abdel Fatah Salman was waiting Thursday at Egypt's Taba border crossing with Israel, for a reunion with his two brothers, who were to be freed under a prisoner swap deal between the two countries. But Salman had mixed feelings.

"I feel jubilant because two of my brothers will be free. But my jubilation is incomplete because my third brother will remain behind bars in Israel," he said. "All other Egyptian prisoners in Israel should be released as soon as possible so that our joy will be full."

Grapel - AP - October 27, 2011

Some 25 Egyptian prisoners, including three minors, were released Thursday in exchange for Alan Grapel, an Israeli-American man held in Cairo since June on spying charges.

The deal leaves behind about 67 Egyptian prisoners in Israel. According to Israeli officials, the vast majority of the Egyptians behind bars are criminal offenders, held for human trafficking, the smuggling of drugs, goods and weapons, and illegal infiltration.

Thursday's exchange does not include any Egyptians held on charges related to security.
An Egyptian mother, whose son has been held in Israel for many years, said she was overjoyed when she first heard the news of the planned release.

"My joy, however, turned into deep disappointment when I learnt that he is not one of the prisoners who will be released," she said. "My elder son has died and Yasser (her jailed son in Israel) is the only one left for me in this world. I implore officials to endeavor to get my son freed."

The deal comes more than one week after Israel and the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas carried out the first phase of a prisoner exchange agreement. The deal was brokered by Egypt, which was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

"I totally reject Egypt's deal with Israel," said Mustafa al-Boluk, a human rights advocate in Egypt's Northern Sinai. "How could Egyptian mediators secure the release of one Israeli soldier in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, and then fail to secure the release of all Egyptians in the Israeli prisons in the present deal?" he said.

Ashraf al-Hefni, an opposition politician in the Sinai Peninsula, called Thursday's deal "faulty." "It is faulty because it did not include political Egyptian prisoners or those captured for fighting the Israeli occupation of Sinai (from 1967-73," he told DPA.

"Egyptians who negotiated this agreement should have taken this into consideration," said al-Hefni. There was no immediate comment from the Egyptian government, which earlier said it was doing its best to help Egyptian prisoners held in any country.

"This deal should be followed by other steps to secure the freedom of other Sinai people who are being jailed in Israel for life," Fouad Hussein, a former military intelligence chief, told the semi-official newspaper Al Ahram.

"Their release will affirm the government's role in protecting the Egyptians," he added. The majority of prisoners covered by the deal are from the Sinai Peninsula.

Egyptians living in Sinai have long complained about the government's alleged negligence to improve their living standards, although the area is home to swanky hotels and resorts.