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Oakland Gardens native nearly free from Egyptian captivity

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Oakland Gardens native Ilan Grapel appears to be on his way to freedom after being detained in Egypt for more than four months on espionage charges.

U.S. Representative Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), the top Democrat on the subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, announced Monday that Israel and Egypt had come to an agreement to release Grapel in exchange for 25 Egyptian prisoners.

In June, the 27-year-old Emory Law school student, who holds dual citizenship in the United States and Israel, was taking part in a refugee resettlement program in Egypt when he was seen taking photos of himself in an Israeli armed services uniform in Tahrir Square and posting them to his Facebook account.

Grapel had served in the Israeli army and fought in the 2006 war with Lebanon. Egypt accused the young man of being an agent in Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency and inciting protesters against Egypt’s military.

“From the beginning, I was assured by the highest levels in Israel that in no way did Ilan have anything to do with espionage, the Mossad or any other type of spy agency,” Ackerman said Monday. “I want to express my deep appreciation to the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces as well as a number of very senior leaders in our government and in the Israeli government, all of whom we worked very closely with to keep this process moving steadily toward resolution, to keep Ilan’s family fully informed, and to maintain focus on the real goal of fixing the original mistake that put Ilan into Egyptian custody.”

The planned prisoner exchange comes one week after Egypt brokered an agreement between Israel and Hamas to exchange upwards of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who had been held captive by Hamas for five years.

Ackerman had worked for years to attain Shalit’s release, and when the plan was announced last week, he said conditions were conducive to arrange for a prisoner exchange with Grapel.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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