An Israeli citizen jailed for 15 years in Egypt on charges of spying was freed from prison on Thursday, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Ouda Tarabin, a Bedouin from Rahat, who has denied all the allegations against him, was returned to Israel after completing his sentence, the PMO said in a statement.
The statement added that Israel has freed two Egyptian prisoners, who had completed their jail terms.
Egyptian media reported that Tarabin was released as part of a prisoner exchange, though the Prime Minister’s Office appeared to dispute that account. The Foreign Ministry said “Tarabin’s release was the result of efforts by [his] lawyer Yitzhak Meltzer and the Foreign Ministry.”
Tarabin’s official release date was December 23, therefore his release Thursday cannot be considered a grand gesture by the Egyptians, said Yitzhak Levanon, who served as Israel’s ambassador in Cairo from 2009 until 2011.
Levanon, who was the first Israeli ambassador to visit Tarabin in prison, said the Egyptian authorities did not treat him very well.
“He suffered in prison. They didn’t take care of him well. Therefore, his liberation is a very happy event. It’s very good news.”
The two Egyptians whom Israel released also were either very close to finishing their prison terms or had already finished them, Levanon
said. Egyptian state media are speaking about a “deal” in order to present Tarabin’s release as a success for the government in Cairo, he said.
In recent years there has been talk of a prisoner exchange of dozens of Egyptians held in Israel in return for Tarabin.
In 2000, the 19-year-old Israeli Bedouin Tarabin was captured by Egyptian forces after he illegally crossed the border. He was tried for espionage by an Egyptian military court and sentenced to 15 years in prison under Egypt’s emergency laws, which allow possibility for parole. Tarabin has maintained his innocence from his Cairo jail since his arrest.
It is unknown why Tarabin crossed the border from Israel to Sinai, but Tarabin’s brother claims that he was likely planning to visit his sister in El-Arish. Another version contends that Tarabin, a shepherd, strayed across the border while searching for a lost camel.
Although Israel lobbied for Tarabin’s release in October 2011 as part of a deal negotiated for the release of Ilan Grapel, the Egyptians were not willing to consider the suggestion. Grapel, a law student with dual US and Israeli citizenship, was jailed for five months on espionage charges before being released in exchange for 25 Egyptian prisoners.
Tarabin’s family in July accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of ignoring their son’s plight because he is not Jewish. They said that no Israeli official had contacted them since their son’s arrest.