ARABS-ISRAEL - Dec 5 - Israel And Egypt Exchange Prisoners As Relations Improve.
An Israeli Arab textile worker Azzam Azzam is released in exchange
for six Egyptian students arrested in Israel earlier this year. He was
convicted of espionage and held for eight years in an Egyptian jail. He
was alleged in 1997 to have passed messages to Israeli security services written in invisible ink on women's underwear. The Egyptian
students were arrested near the desert border between the two countries
in August and accused of planning to hijack an Israeli army tank and
kill its crew. The exchange marks a significant thaw in relations
between Israel and Egypt, which have been under strain since the
outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada or uprising more than four
years ago. Egypt's Pres Hosni Mubarak, has persistently blamed
Israel for the escalation of violence in the Palestinian territories.
However, in a marked change of tone in his public comments, Mubarak
suggested to reporters in Cairo Israel's PM Ariel Sharon, now
represented the Palestinians' best chance for a peaceful
settlement. His comments followed a visit to Israel last week by
Egypt's FM Ahmad Aboul Gheit, and its intelligence chief Omar
Suleiman. The two are reported to have consolidated security
arrangements for Israel's planned unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.
Israeli government officials said they were also considering the release
of Palestinian prisoners. A Middle East diplomat said this was part of
the deal negotiated by the Egyptians, which would boost the chances of
Mahmoud Abbas succeeding Yassir Arafat.