JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli Arab who served a 15-year sentence in Egypt for espionage was released Thursday and welcomed back by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Ouda Tarabin, a Bedouin Arab, crossed into Egypt illegally in 2000 and was convicted of spying for Israel. He maintained his innocence over the years. Egypt released Tarabin after he served his full sentence.
"I feel like I'm dreaming," Tarabin said, referring to his incarceration as "when I was in a cemetery in Egypt."
Netanyahu said the 34-year-old could now start his life over. The prime minister's office said Israel released two Egyptian prisoners, without providing further information. Egyptian officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Hundreds of well-wishers crowded a welcoming tent Thursday for Tarabin, who returned to his desert village. He told Israeli reporters he planned to find a wife and start a family.
Itzhak Levanon, a former ambassador to Egypt who was involved in efforts to get Tarabin released over the years, told Israel Radio that the Israeli citizen was held in terrible conditions, including a cell without a toilet.
"Most of the time he was held in isolation, he suffered there," Levanon said.
Levanon added that Tarabin was charged in an Egyptian military court and never told exactly what he was accused of.
The veteran diplomat also recounted a conversation during his posting in Egypt with then-President Hosni Mubarak.
"Mubarak told me something that causes me to lose sleep even today, but I couldn't do anything because I was sitting with a president," Levanon said. "He said, 'We always need to have an Israeli prisoner with us.'"