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Israel: US-born man held in Egypt is no spy

Image: Ilan Grapel, arrested on spy charges in Cairo
Ilan Grapel, an American-Israeli who entered Egypt using his American passport and was detained by Egypt on spying charges, is seen in a Haifa hospital after he was injured in the war between Israel and Lebanon in August 2006. Grapel, shown with visitors at his bedside, was an Israeli paratrooper at the time. EPA, file
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Israel's foreign minister said Tuesday that a U.S.-born Israeli arrested in Egypt on espionage charges is not a spy and expressed hope the case would soon be resolved.

"This is a student, perhaps a little strange or a little careless. He has no connection to any intelligence apparatus, not in Israel, not in the U.S. and not on Mars," Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Army Radio.

The foreign minister said Ilan Grapel's arrest was a "mistake, or bizarre behavior, on the part of the Egyptians" and said he hoped "this saga will end as soon as possible." Israel, he added, has sent clarifications to Egypt.

Grapel immigrated to Israel in 2005 from New York and served as a paratrooper in the Israeli army and in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war.

The 27-year-old's family and friends say he is a law student in Atlanta with an avid interest in the Mideast — and not a Mossad agent out to sabotage Egypt's revolution, as Egyptian authorities claim. The website for Emory University School of Law in Atlanta showed that a student with Grapel's name received a grant to work at the Supreme Court of Israel in Jerusalem.

Student or saboteur?
Grapel, who was working for a legal aid group, was arrested Sunday at a hotel in Cairo and ordered held for 15 days. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo said a consular officer visited Grapel on Monday and found him in good health.

His mother Irene and a fellow student said he arrived in Cairo in May. His mother told Reuters he was working for Saint Andrew's Refugee Services, a non-governmental organization, in Cairo.  

But Egypt says he came in mid-January, just before the protests that toppled longtime autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak began, and accuses him of inciting sedition, spreading rumors, and kindling frictions between protesters and the military that now rules the country.

Grapel's arrest has set off new fears in Israel that relations with Egypt will sour now that Mubarak has been deposed.

Since Mubarak's ouster, Egypt's military rulers have often warned against unspecified "foreign" attempts to destabilize the country.

Egypt, like other Arab states, has a long history of blaming internal problems on Israeli saboteurs.