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Ilan Grapel, American-Israeli accused of spying, to be released by Egypt

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JERUSALEM — Egypt will release a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen held on suspicion of spying in exchange for 25 Egyptians jailed in Israel under a deal reached with the help of Washington, the Israeli prime minister’s office said Monday.

A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Egypt had agreed to release Ilan Grapel, who has been held since June 12. Israel will release 25 Egyptians, including three minors, none of them jailed for security offenses, the statement said.

No details were released on the identity of the Egyptians to be freed, but Israeli officials said Egyptians held in Israel are generally arrested for involvement in cross-border smuggling.

An Egyptian security official in the Sinai Peninsula, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters, said the swap would probably take place Tuesday or Wednesday at the Taba border crossing with Israel.

The deal, subject to final approval Tuesday by Israel’s security cabinet, comes after last week’s release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a captive Israeli soldier, Sgt. Gilad Shalit — part of an Egyptian-brokered prisoner exchange with the Islamist group Hamas.

Grapel, 27, was accused by Egyptian officials of spying for Israel during and after the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February. They alleged that Grapel had been tasked with gathering intelligence about the revolution and inciting clashes with the military.

Israel has denied that Grapel, a law student at Emory University in Atlanta, was a spy, and his parents said he was working in Cairo for a group that provides legal aid and other help to refugees.

Grapel immigrated to Israel in 2005 and was wounded while serving as a paratrooper in Israel’s 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. During the Egyptian upheaval, he visited Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the anti-Mubarak revolt. Law school classmates said it was unlikely that an Israeli spy would have posted Facebook photos of himself in the square and wearing a uniform during his military service.

An Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that 81 Egyptians are in Israeli custody and that Egypt had negotiated the swap after families of the detainees had pressed for their release after last week’s prisoner exchange.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta brought up Grapel’s case during a recent visit to Cairo, and it has been a sore point in U.S.-Egypt relations since Mubarak’s ouster. The detention of Westerners in the absence of solid evidence was rare during the Mubarak era.

Since the military assumed control of Egypt, it has blamed much of the unrest of the past few months on foreigners it says are working to destabilize the country.

A spokeswoman at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo said she had no information to release about the deal.

Special correspondents Ingy Hassieb in Cairo and Ahmad Abu Deraa in el-Arish, Egypt, contributed to this report.

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