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Israeli prime minister greets Oakland Gardens man released by Egypt

In this photo released by the Israeli Government Press Office, freed U.S.-Israeli citizen Ilan Grapel (l.) is greeted by his mother Irene after landing at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, Israel. AP Photo/ GPO, Avi Ohayon, HO
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Ilan Grapel, the Oakland Gardens native who was released by Egypt Thursday after being arrested and held on espionage charges for more than four months, will return home Friday morning, according to U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside).

The congressman announced earlier Friday that he, Grapel and the 27-year old’s mother, Irene, will arrive at JFK Airport Saturday where they will meet father, Daniel, and address the press.

Ackerman flew to Israel Wednesday after learning that the country and Egypt were close to reaching an agreement that would trade Grapel for 25 Egyptian prisoners.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Grapel “it’s good that you’re home” when the young man arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport Thursday afternoon, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Grapel was arrested on espionage charges in Egypt in June, when he was seen in Tahrir Square taking photos of himself in an Israeli armed services uniform and posting them to Facebook.

He is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, where he served in the Army during the 2006 war with Lebanon.

The Post reported Thursday morning that the Israel Prison Service had transferred 22 Egyptian prisoners ahead of Grapel’s release. An additional three minors were expected to be transferred at a later time, according to the newspaper.

Grapel, a student at Emory Law School in Atlanta, was in the country to work as an intern with a refugee-placement program. Ackerman, who helped negotiate his release, said he was assured at the highest levels of the Israeli government that Grapel is not a spy.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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