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Egypt frees Israeli Bedouin charged with espionage after 15 years

Israeli Bedouin Ouda Tarabin, who has been imprisoned in Egypt for 15 years on suspicion of spying for Israel, has finished serving his term and was returned to Israel on Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, Israel has also released two Egyptians who were imprisoned in Israel and finished serving their term.

Egyptian media tied the release of the two Egyptian prisoners to Tarabin’s release, while a senior Egyptian official was quoted as saying more Egyptian nationals are expected to be freed.

Tarabin was sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2000 for aiding in the gathering of intelligence material. He was tried in absentia and without his knowledge, while he was in Israel.

He was arrested by Egyptian authorities while crossing the border illegally, according to the Egyptians, to visit his family in the Sinai Peninsula.

Tarabin’s name came up during talk of a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Egypt, that would see his release in return for dozens of Egyptian prisoners in Israeli jail, but such a deal never came to pass due to the instability in Egypt and frequent regime changes.

About four years ago, there was hope Tarabin’s name came up again in the hopes he could be included in the deal to free Israeli Ilan Grapel, who was sitting in Egyptian jail for four and a half months – also on espionage charges – but the deal went ahead without Tarabin’s inclusion.

In 2012, the Israeli government was close to reaching an agreement with the government of Mohamed Morsi to secure Tarabin’s release. The then-Egyptian president also promised the families of Bedouins from Sinai that all 83 Egyptian nationals imprisoned in Israel, most of whom are of Bedouin descent, will be released by Eid al-Adha (the Sacrifice Feast), but this did not come to pass because Morsi’s regime was overthrown.

In May 2014, Tarabin sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claiming he was abandoned because he is a Bedouin.

“I was sentenced in absentia at a military court to 15 years on charges of spying for Israel. I could not even see a judge to defend myself,” Tarabin said. “The Egyptian government knows I’m innocent but since I am an Israeli national, I was clearly discriminated against.”

Tarabin discussed his difficulties of being away from his family and tribe, and accused that “his honor and your governments have done nothing to bring to my release from Egypt, which is considered a friendly state that has joint interests with Israel.”

The Foreign Ministry credited Tarabin’s release to efforts by the Tarabin family’s attorney, Yitzhak Melzer, and the Foreign Ministry.

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