Middle East

Egypt to free 'Israeli spy' Grapel under swap deal

Ilan Grapel in hospital in Haifa (2006)
Image caption Ilan Grapel was wounded fighting for Israel in the 2006 war with Lebanon

Israel says it has reached a deal with Egypt under which the Egyptians will release a US-Israeli citizen, Ilan Grapel, who has been detained since June on suspicion of spying.

In return Israel has agreed to release 25 Egyptian prisoners.

Mr Grapel has been accused of spying for Israel during the uprising against the former president, Hosni Mubarak.

Israel and Mr Grapel's family say he was working openly for a legitimate aid project in Cairo.

The deal was announced in a statement by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

It has yet to be approved by Israel's security cabinet, but the 14-member body will meet later this week and is thought unlikely to reject the agreement.

Israeli army service

Ilan Grapel's friends and family say he was a law student in the US before he moved back to Israel in 2005.

He served in the Israeli military during its war in Lebanon with the militant group Hezbollah in 2006 and was injured in the fighting.

His family say he was in Cairo working for a non-governmental organisation when he was arrested on 12 June this year.

Egypt accused him of trying to stir up sectarian strife in Cairo on behalf of the Israeli spy agency Mossad.

However, on top of the Israeli denials, many Egyptians also expressed doubt about the allegations.

Sceptics on internet forums pointed out that Mr Grapel travelled to Egypt under his own name and posted pictures of himself on Facebook wearing an Israeli army uniform.

They accused the Egyptian military leadership of trying to use the case to divert attention from their own difficulties.

Israel and the US have for months been pressing the authorities in Cairo to release him.

Mr Grapel's father, Daniel, spoke briefly to Israel's Channel 10 TV on Monday evening.

"I haven't been officially notified, but I do know that things are happening between the US, Egyptian and Israeli governments," he said.

Egyptian prisoners

Egyptian state-owned television has said three children are among the 25 Egyptians to be released.

Israel stressed in its statement that none of the Egyptians had been involved in security-related crimes.

The deal comes less than a week after Israel released the first batch of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.

He had been held by the militant group, Hamas, which controls Gaza, since 2006.

Egypt's Al Ahram newspaper, which is also state-owned, said mediation by the Egyptian authorities in the Shalit deal had helped to clear the way for the Grapel agreement to be reached.

More on this story