Reports Saturday night said that Ouda Tarabin, an Israeli citizen who has been jailed in Egypt for the past twelve years, could be released “within hours.”
The report in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram Saturday quoted top Egyptian military officials. According to the report, Israel is to release 63 Egyptians being held in Israeli prisons in exchange for Tarabin.
Tarabin, a member of a Bedouin tribe, was arrested by Egypt in 2000, when he was 19 years old, after crossing the border from Israel into Sinai. Tarabin was charged on mysterious – and still unknown – charges of “spying,” and was tried in absentia for espionage by an Egyptian military court.
While in custody of border police in Sinai, reports his attorney Yitzchak Meltzer, Tarabin was informed that he had been sentenced to 15 years in prison. No evidence – except for unsubstantiated testimony from an Egyptian cousin, who has been in jail since 1999 on similar charges – or defense, were presented, and Tarabin was not even indicted.
He was convicted under Egypt’s emergency laws, and there is no possibility of parole.
Tarabin’s family says that Ouda was not a spy, and that he had entered Sinai to visit his sister in El-Arish. When he was informed of his sentence, Meltzer says, Ouda was also told that his father had been sentenced to 25 years in prison, also on espionage charges.
Meltzer believes that the jailing of Ouda and the threat against his father may surround a bid for revenge by either the Egyptian government or a high official against Ouda’s father or the family, which immigrated to Israel in 1991.
It should be noted that Egypt did not even admit that it was holding Tarabin until 2004; then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other officials raised the issue with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, and were given “indirect answers,” Meltzer says.
According to the sources, negotiations have been going on between Israel and Egypt for several months, and an agreement is nearly completed, although several more details need to be worked out.
Deputy Minister Ayoub Kara said over the weekend that “this is the first time that Tarabin’s release is dependent more on Israel’s actions than Egypt’s.”