Ilan Grapel is hospitalized in Haifa, Israel, in 2006 after being injured… (Ancho Gosh / Associated…)
Reporting from Jerusalem — Israel and Egypt announced a prisoner swap Monday that will free American Israeli citizen Ilan Grapel, who was arrested four months ago in Cairo on suspicion of spying for Israel and inciting antigovernment unrest.
The New York-born Grapel, who became an Israeli citizen in 2005, will be exchanged for 25 Egyptians being held in Israeli jails, according to a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israeli officials, as well as Grapel's friends and family, denied that the 27-year-old worked for Israel's Mossad intelligence agency. They described the Emory University law school student as an idealistic, sometimes naive, adventure seeker with a keen interest in Arabic language and culture.
Egyptian news media said he entered the country illegally, posing as a journalist. His mother told Israeli media that he arrived there in May for a temporary stint with St. Andrew's Refugee Services, a nonprofit aid agency. On his Facebook page, Grapel posted pictures of himself holding protest signs at Cairo demonstrations called to demand a quicker transition to democracy.
Grapel's parents moved from Israel to the U.S. in 1974. Their son immigrated to Israel and began his mandatory military service. He served as a paratrooper and was injured in the 2006 Lebanon war. Later he returned to the U.S. to attend law school.
Netanyahu's security Cabinet is expected to formally approve the swap Tuesday. Israeli officials said none of the prisoners to be released are accused of security-related crimes and that three are minors. U.S. officials assisted in the negotiations.
Grapel's detention in June came amid deteriorating relations between Israel and Egypt's new interim government, which replaced that of toppled President Hosni Mubarak. Under pressure from an Egyptian public that remains largely hostile toward Israel, the military-led interim government has taken a harder stance in relations with Israel.
The Grapel case was largely overshadowed in recent weeks by another prisoner swap, mediated by Egypt, in which Hamas released Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in return for 1,027 Palestinian detainees.
A breakthrough in Grapel's case came after Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak formally apologized — for the second time — for Israel's accidental killing of at least three Egyptian soldiers in August. Israeli forces reportedly shot the troops while pursuing pro-Palestinian militants who had just carried out a cross-border attack that killed eight Israelis near the resort town of Eilat.
Barak initially expressed regret in August after Egypt threatened to recall its ambassador over the incident. But Egyptians demanded a second, more explicit official apology, which Barak made Oct. 11.
Tensions between Israel and Egypt, which signed a landmark peace accord in 1979, have been rising since popular protests led to the fall of the Mubarak government, which had been considered an ally of Israel.
An Egyptian pipeline that exports natural gas to Israel and Jordan has repeatedly been targeted by unknown militant groups in the Sinai. In September, anti-Israel mobs in Cairo stormed the Israeli Embassy, forcing the ambassador to flee the country. The envoy has not yet returned.