JERUSALEM ø Egypt and Israel have completed a prisoner swap that
is expected to allow the release of Palestinian detainees.
Israel released six Egyptian insurgents in exchange for a convicted
Israeli spy on Sunday in a move that Israeli officials said reflected
increased security cooperation between Cairo and Jerusalem. The exchange was
the first in decades between the two neighbors and resulted in the release
of an Israeli national held by Egypt since 1996.
"The realm of security cooperation is going well," Foreign Minister
Silvan Shalom said. "The Egyptians over the last year have not only become a
dominant force, but a more positive force."
The Egyptian insurgents, identified as university students, were
arrested in August as they tried to enter Israel, Middle East Newsline reported. At the time, Israeli
authorities said the students sought to attack Israeli soldiers and
The Egyptian-Israeli exchange is also to include the release of
Palestinian detainees, officials said. They said the release would take
place after the Palestinian Authority elections on Jan. 9 and would include
those deemed as major figures in Palestinian political movements, such as
Fatah, Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
For his part, Shalom said Israel and Egypt were discussing the
establishment of an Egyptian liasion office in the West Bank. The liasion
office would serve to coordinate with both Israeli and PA forces in the
area. Israel has already agreed in principle to the deployment of 750
Egyptian police commandos along the eight-kilometer Egypt-Gaza border.
On Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Knesset Foreign
Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel sought strategic relations with
Egypt. Mofaz said Israel would help facilitate Egyptian training of PA
security forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Officials said the negotiations for the release of the purported Israeli
spy, identified as Azzam Azzam, age 41, took more than a year. They said the
talks included several discussions between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Hours after the prisoners exchange, Mubarak and Sharon held a telephone
conversation. The two men were said to have agreed to expand security
In 1997, Azzam was sentenced to 15 years prison on espionage. Azzam had
been the director of a textile factory in Egypt under joint Israeli-Egyptian
Officials said Egypt twice delayed the prisoner exchange in November.
They cited the death of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and an
Israeli shelling along the Egyptian-Gaza border in which three Egyptian
police officers were killed.