Middle East

Egypt frees alleged Israeli spy Grapel in swap deal

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Media captionJon Leyne says the deal is a bit "everyday business" between Egypt and Israel

US-Israeli citizen Ilan Grapel has arrived in Tel Aviv after being freed by Egypt as part of a prisoner exchange deal with Israel.

Mr Grapel, who was detained in June on spying charges, flew from Cairo, accompanied by Israeli officials.

The exchange saw Israel release 25 Egyptian prisoners, who crossed by land back into their home country.

Correspondents say that despite regional turmoil, the deal shows the two countries can still do business.

Mr Grapel is expected to meet briefly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem before flying to New York.

Israel and his family deny the accusations against Mr Grapel, a former soldier, saying he was working for a charity in Cairo and never sought to conceal his identity.

'Fine and smiling'

The 27-year-old was handed over to Israeli officials in Cairo before the flight to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport.

Earlier, Israel Hasson, an Israeli lawmaker who has been involved in the negotiations, told AP news agency from Cairo that Mr Grapel was "fine" and "smiling".

Egyptian state television showed some of the Egyptians bowing down in prayer as they arrived on home soil, after passing through the Taba border crossing.

Three minors were the first to cross, according to the Associated Press news agency.

Image caption Twenty-five Egyptian prisoners were released by Israel as part of the deal

Interviewed by Egyptian television, two of them said they had been arrested after illegally crossing into Israel to sell contraband cigarettes. They said they were not ill-treated while detained in Israel.

Another of those freed, Rabia Suleiman, had been serving a four-year jail term on drugs charges.

Asked what he would do on his return, he said: "I'll come here and find any job, and I won't go back."

Mr Grapel was arrested on 12 June and accused of trying to stir up sectarian strife in Cairo on behalf of the Israeli spy agency Mossad.

His relatives say he made no attempt to disguise his identity, including the fact that he had served in the Israeli army during its war in Lebanon in 2006.

There is widespread scepticism in Egypt that Mr Grapel really was an Israeli spy.

Israel has stressed that none of the Egyptians released was involved in security-related crimes.

Its security cabinet approved the exchange on Tuesday.

On Wednesday the Israeli Supreme Court rejected an appeal from a victims' rights group against the swap, saying it was a political decision outside the court's jurisdiction.

A similar appeal against the release of Sgt Gilad Shalit was also rejected.

Last week Israel released the first batch of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the Israeli soldier.

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

It appears the deal to release Mr Grapel was negotiated around the same time as the Shalit exchange, says the BBC's Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem.

It shows that Egypt is still capable of dealing with Israel on business-like terms and reminds regional rivals such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia that Cairo's influence is real, despite the change of government, our correspondent says.

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