Israel Begins Transferring Egyptian Prisoners Ahead of Grapel Swap

High Court rejects petition against swap, in which Egyptian prisoners will be released in exchange for Israeli-American Ilan Grapel, held in Egypt on espionage charges.

Israel moved 22 Egyptian inmates from the prison in which they were being held to a jail in the south of the country Wednesday, the day before their planned exchange for a dual Israeli-American national held in Egypt on espionage charges, an Israel Prisons Service spokeswoman said.

Three other prisoners who are included in the swap deal for Ilan Grapel and who are minors will be moved Thursday, when the exchange is expected to take place.

Israel Prisons Service (IPS) Spokeswoman Sivan Weizman added that, on Thursday, the 25 prisoners to be freed in the swap will be taken to the Taba border crossing between Israel and Egypt. She could not tell DPA when the swap will take place.

Grapel, a student at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, Georgia, was arrested in Egypt on June 12 and has been held since, accused of spying on behalf of Israel. The charges were later downgraded to incitement.

With his release, the Egyptian authorities will withdraw their accusations against him.

Israel's security cabinet unanimously approved the swap deal on Tuesday. A spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the 25 Egyptians to be freed include no security prisoners, but were people jailed for simple criminal offences.

According to a list published by the IPS, nine of the prisoners were jailed for drug smuggling, while another nine had been held on weapons-related charges. One prisoner was jailed for both offences. Others were jailed for smuggling goods. Almost all were also imprisoned for infiltrating into Israel.

Three of the prisoners to be swapped have already completed their sentences. Another five were due to be freed by the end of the year, one as early as next week.

Israel's High Court, meanwhile, rejected petitions Wednesday against the deal, submitted by an ultra-nationalist legislator and a right-wing group.

They argued that the decision to release the 25 Egyptians was problematic legally, since it was made by the 14-member security cabinet and not by the full government.

They also said the deal was disproportionate and unreasonable, and pointed out that Grapel went to Egypt of his own free will, and was not sent there by Israel.

The exchange Thursday comes nine days after Israel freed 477 Palestinian prisoners in return for soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held prisoner by Hamas in the Gaza Strip for five years.