Egypt frees Israeli Bedouin 'spy' in prisoner exchange
Egypt has released a Bedouin resident of Israel who spent 15 years in prison for spying, in exchange for two Egyptians imprisoned in Israel, officials said, amid improving ties between the two countries, according to al-Araby al-Jadeed's Arabic service.
Ouda Tarabin, originally from a tribe in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, had been convicted of spying for Israel and had completed his jail term, Egyptian security sources and state television said.
|Tarabin was arrested at the age of 19 [AAAJ]
Tarabin met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in his Jerusalem office, a government statement said.
"Netanyahu, today met with Ouda Tarabin following the latter's return to Israel, and told him, 'Welcome home. We had long talks with the Egyptians for years and we are happy to see you with us now. I said that we would bring you back here and it has happened,'" the statement read.
The 34-year-old, who was just 19 at the time of his arrest, had frequently travelled visit his two sisters in the port city of al-Arish.
But during a trip in 2000 he was arrested and informed that he had been tried in absentia on charges of spying for Israel.
Egyptian authorities accused Tarabin of attempting to recruit his brother-in-law to spy on the Egyptian military in north Sinai and sentenced him to 25 years in prison.
|See Also: Photo gallery: Seven of the Middle East's most notorious spies
Tarabin, who moved from Egypt to the predominantly Bedouin city of Rahat inside Israel when he was ten years old, has always insisted he was innocent.
|Tarabin's father waiting to receive his son [Twitter]
"Thank you to everyone. I was living inside a grave in Egypt. I cannot describe what happened to me while I was in prison," Tarabin told reporters outside his father's home in Rahat, according to al-Araby's Arabic service
"On Wednesday evening, an officer came to me and said 'get yourself ready'. I am lucky that I am Israeli, this country does everything for its citizens," he added.
Zvi Mazel, Israel's sixth ambassador to Egypt, told Israeli media that Tarabin was scheduled to be released next week and was in all likelihood not involved in espionage.
"Tarabin didn't deserve 15 years and probably was not a spy," Mazel said.
Mazel said the two released Egyptian prisoners, like others Israel holds, were likely either small time spies, involved in drug smuggling, or had crossed the border illegally.
"Egypt never asks for the release of their prisoners because they don't give a damn," asserted Mazel.
Mazel said Israel tried to win Tarabin's release in 2012, offering 67 Egyptian prisoners in return.
"In their mind, they thought because we were willing to release 67 prisoners for one guy that he must be a spy," the former ambassador to Egypt added.
In 1979, Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, but ties have remained formally cold over Israel's policies towards the Palestinians.
Relations soured after the June 2012 election of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammad Morsi as Egyptian president.
Morsi was deposed in a July 2013 coup led by then-army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who was elected president in 2014.
In September, Israel opened a new embassy in Cairo, four years after protesters in the Egyptian capital stormed its mission following the ousting of long-time leader Hosni Mubarak.