CAIRO: Egypt said on Thursday it was preparing to swap US-Israeli dual national Ilan Grapel, who was detained in June on spying charges, for Egyptian prisoners held in Israel.
Grapel, 27, was arrested in Egypt on accusations he was a spy out to recruit agents and monitor events in the revolt that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak, an ally of both the United States and Israel. Grapel has not faced trial yet.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called on Egypt this month to release Grapel but denied he was involved in direct negotiations over the matter.
"In response to the demands of the families of Egyptian prisoners held in Israel, the cabinet has decided that the Foreign Ministry coordinate with all the concerned security entities to take the necessary steps to return those prisoners to their homeland," cabinet spokesman Mohamed Hegazy said.
"This includes the exchange of the accused Ilan Grapel with those prisoners and taking the necessary legal steps involved."
An Egyptian security source said earlier this week that such a deal was expected.
Details of a possible agreement for Grapel’s release were first reported by Egyptian state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper on Sunday, which said Israel and Egypt were close to agreeing a deal "in which the spy Ilan Grapel… will be released in return for all Egyptians held in Israeli prisons."
On Monday, unnamed Israel officials told public radio that a deal was in the works to release a US-Israeli joint national held in a Cairo prison in exchange for 81 Egyptians, including three children, held in Israel, most of whom are facing criminal charges, including illegal entry to Israel, drug trafficking and arms possession.
"The success of the Egyptian mediation of the Shalit deal and Israel’s formal apology to Egypt for the death of Egyptian soldiers killed on the border by Israeli fire, certainly cleared the road for making the Grapel deal," the paper said.
Grapel’s mother said at the time of his arrest that her son, a law student in the United States, was working for Saint Andrew’s Refugee Services, a non-governmental organization, in Cairo.
Grapel emigrated to Israel in 2005 from New York and served in its military in the 2006 Lebanon war.
Over the years, Egypt has arrested a number of people accused of spying for Israel.