Jerusalem and Cairo are involved in intensive negotiations to secure the release of Ouda Tarabin, the Israeli Bedouin jailed in Egypt for over a decade for espionage, Egyptian media reported Wednesday.
Tarabin and several other Israelis convicted of spying would be exchanged for 65 Egyptians held in Israeli jails.
Egyptian authorities have also been in contact with their Israeli counterparts in order to ascertain the conditions of Egyptian prisoners who last month joined hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in an indefinite hunger strike.
Tarabin, 31, has been held in Egypt since 1999, when he was sentenced in absentia under the country’s Emergency Law to 15 years in prison for espionage.
The Tarabin Beduin are a large tribe spread across the Negev and Sinai. In the Negev, the Tarabins’ territory is concentrated around Beersheba, while in Sinai, their lands are situated along the Israeli border south of the resort of El- Arish as well as on the Gulf of Suez and on the Red Sea around Nuweiba.
Since the mid-1990s the tribe has been heavily involved in smuggling, both across the Egypt-Israel border and to the Gaza Strip. Still, the Israeli government and Tarabin’s family have rejected accusations of espionage as baseless, and the prisoner’s brother maintains he had crossed into Egypt merely to visit their sister in El-Arish.
Speculation over Tarabin’s release began during last year’s US-mediated Egyptian-Israeli negotiations for the release of Ilan Grapel, an Israeli-American law student held for nearly five months on charges of spying for Israel. Grapel was freed last October year in exchange for 25 Egyptian security prisoners.
At the time, Druse MK Ayoub Kara (Likud) unsuccessfully lobbied US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro to include Tarabin in the deal.
In 1996 Azzam Azzam, an Israeli Druse textile worker, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after being convicted of espionage, a charge both he and the Israeli government firmly denied. Following the intervention of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), Azzam was released in 2004 in exchange for six Egyptians convicted of planning terror attacks. Tarabin now occupies the same cell in a Cairo jail where Azzam was once held, according to the Jerusalem Post.