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Egypt convicts Israeli Arab in spy case, angering Israel

August 31, 1997

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ An Egyptian court convicted an Israeli Arab on Sunday of spying for Israel by providing women’s underwear soaked in invisible ink, and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

The State Security Court also convicted two Israeli Arab women who were tried in absentia and an Egyptian man in the case. Each was sentenced to life in prison and fined $1,470.

The case of Azam Azam has added to tension between Egypt and Israel since his arrest in November.

Israel officials reacted to the verdict with outrage. They had assured Egypt that Azam was not a government agent, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pleaded with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek for Azam’s release.

``This is a most serious development in relations between Israel and Egypt,″ Netanyahu’s office quoted him as saying. ``Azam is innocent and shouldn’t have to sit in jail even for one day.″

Netanyahu spokesman Shai Bazak said: ``There is not a grain of truth in these fabrications. ... We have no doubt that justice was not done in this case.″

Azam was accused of giving the ink-soaked underwear to Emad Abdel-Hamid Ismail, a teacher who had worked in Israel as a factory employee, to send secret messages to Israel about Egyptian factories.

Azam, 35, was working as a mechanic at an Egyptian-Israeli textile plants in Cairo when he and Ismail were arrested.

Prosecutors charged that the two Israeli women, Zahra Yousef Jreis and Mona Ahmed Shawahna, recruited Ismail as a spy after Jreis seduced him.

Ismail and the women, who are in Israel, were charged with acting and conspiring to harm Egypt. Azam was accused of conspiracy and aiding in the spy operation.

Azam’s attorney, Farid el-Deeb, argued that any information Ismail supplied did not amount to espionage. He also maintained that police tricked Ismail into signing a confession.

Azam is a member of the Druse religious sect from Israel’s Galilee. He is married and the father of four children.

He and Ismail sat in traditional white Egyptian robes, smoking cigarettes in a courtroom cage as they awaited the verdicts. They were whisked out of the courtroom by guards without speaking to reporters afterward.

Azam’s brother, Sami Azam, said the family would appeal to Mubarak to free him. There is no other avenue of appeal.

``This is a ruling of a court and we will quickly go to the Egyptian president to free Azam with an amnesty,″ he said with tears welling in his eyes. ``We will also turn to the Israeli prime minister to seriously try to free him.″

Israel and Egypt have been at peace since 1979, but their relationship has remained difficult after decades of enmity.

It has grown worse since Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down in March, when Israel began building a housing project for Jews in east Jerusalem, where the Palestinians hope to establish a capital.

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