Mubarak Agrees to Free Azzam Azzam

More than seven years after his arrest in Cairo as an Israeli spy, Israeli Druze Azzam Azzam is coming home.
debkafile‘s exclusive sources in Cairo have learned that his 15-year sentence with hard labor at the Limantorah prison south of Cairo is about to be commuted by order of President Hosni Mubarak.
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was given the tidings in a message in which Mubarak explained that he “wanted to clear his desk ahead of important Middle East events” developing over the next few months. The Egyptian leader did not go into details. But Israel believes that before his talks with President George W. Bush on April 12, Mubarak wants to show the U.S. administration that Sharon isn`t the only one willing to bend on matters of principle.
(debkafile`s sources in Washington note that it is still uncertain just where the two leaders will meet. Initial plans called for a weekend get-together at Bush`s Crawford, Texas ranch, but the talks may take place elsewhere).
Mubarak then went to disclose that he was “casting about for an appropriate manner for bringing about (Azzam`s) early release”.
The Israeli Druze was employed at an Israeli textile plant in Egypt in 1997 when he was arrested and charged with spying for Israel`s Mossad intelligence service, using invisible ink hidden in dyed women’s underwear. Israel has consistently denied he was a spy and worked hard for his release.
Mubarak has not yet decided in what framework he will be freed: curtailment of his term by a bureaucratic procedure, a special presidential pardon or a gesture to mark the most sacred Druze festival in honor of their prophet, Jethro, or Nebi Sheuib which falls in June.
It is likely that the Egyptian president will choose the third option as serving a broader political objective. It is a little known fact that the secretive Druze religion is rooted in Egypt; the pyramids of Giza hold arcane symbolic meaning for the sect. Mubarak will not miss the chance of holding up this association and presenting Azzam`s release as an Egyptian gesture toward the Druze faith at large, rather than a diplomatic concession toward Israel, its partner in a very chilly peace relationship. In his message to Sharon, Mubarak made it very clear that Azzam’s release was not part of any bilateral Egyptian-Israeli transaction.
Time after time, Azzam`s name has come up over the years whenever some prisoner exchange was broached. Just last month, Pakistani newspapers linked him with the release of several al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners in Pakistani jails.
Some mystery surrounds the route by which the Mubarak message was delivered to Sharon. Senior officials in Cairo say nothing when asked if it was carried by General Omar Suleiman, the head of Egypt`s intelligence services, who reportedly saw the prime minister in Jerusalem on Monday, March 8. Neither do they confirm that the two men met at all. Sources in Egypt simply decline to comment on their spy chief’s movements in the last two days.
Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom is due in Egypt on Thursday, March 11 for talks with Mubarak. Their agenda is expected to focus on Azzam`s release rather than on Israel`s evolving plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip.

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