Ilan Grapel Lands in Israel After 25 Egyptian Prisoners Released

All 25 freed prisoners were imprisoned on criminal charges, mostly drug-related; Israel says security prisoners were not included in the deal.

Ilan Grapel, an American-Israeli citizen jailed in Cairo on suspicion of espionage, landed in Israel on Thursday after 25 Egyptians crossed from Israel into Egypt in exchange for his release.

He was greeted by his mother upon landing and will later meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ilan Grapel
Avi Ohayon

Earlier Thursday, Grapel was handed over to Israeli representatives in Cairo, Kadima MK Yisrael Hasson and attorney Yitzhak Molcho who met with him and escorted him back to Israel. Hasson told the Associated Press that Grappel looked well and was smiling.

Egypt arrested Grapel, 27, in June, setting off new concerns that Egypt-Israel relations would sour after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Grapel was volunteering at a legal aid group in Cairo when he was arrested and accused of spying for Israel during the uprising that overthrew Mubarak in February. Israel denied the espionage allegations, as did Grapel's family and friends.

All of the 25 were imprisoned on criminal charges, mostly drug-related. Israel said security prisoners were not included in the deal.

Three minors were the first to cross into Egypt. Interviewed by Egypt's state television, two of them said they were not treated badly while incarcerated in Israel. Both said they were arrested after illegally crossing into Israel to sell contraband cigarettes. The third was not interviewed.

Musalam Barakat, an adult, said he was imprisoned for more than six years.
"The treatment in Israel was tough. They discriminated against non-Israelis. They made us feel like outsiders all the time," he told Egyptian TV.

TV footage showed some of the men kneeling to kiss the asphalt after crossing through a blue metal gate at the border crossing. The state TV presenter called the 25 released prisoners "heroes" and "asrah," Arabic for prisoners of war.

Grapel made no secret of his Israeli background and entered Egypt under his real name. His Facebook page had photos of him in an Israeli military uniform.

Such openness about his identity suggested he was not a spy. The arrest was ridiculed even in Egypt, where hostility toward Israel runs high.

Grapel moved to Israel, where his grandparents live, as a young man. He did his compulsory military service in Israel during its 2006 war in Lebanon and was wounded in combat. He later returned to the U.S. to study.

At the time of his arrest he was doing a legal internship with a local nonprofit organization in Cairo and planned afterward to return to the U.S. for his final year of law school. Initially, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo had taken the lead in Grapel's case because he entered Egypt with his U.S. passport.

A former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Eli Shaked, said the U.S. was a main player in clinching the swap deal.

The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv had no comment on the affair.