Egypt on Sunday released an Israeli convicted of spying in exchange for Israel's release of six Egyptian students, in a deal that indicated a warming of ties between Cairo and Tel Aviv. As part of the deal, Israel may also free Palestinian detainees in the future, Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said.
Egypt freed Azzam Azzam, an Israeli Arab sentenced in 1997 to 15 years in prison after an Egyptian court convicted him of espionage.
Israel in turn released six Egyptian students who had sneaked into the country in August and were arrested on suspicion they tried to kidnap Israeli troops and commandeer a tank.
Last week, Egyptian President Mubarak said that the students would soon be freed.
Ties between Israel and Egypt were improving following a visit to Jerusalem last Wednesday by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, according to Tel-Aviv based HaAretz newspaper.
Israel's Foreign Ministry Director General Ron Prushor said Sunday that Egypt will return its ambassador to Israel in the "near future". According to Israeli sources Sunday, the Egyptian ambassador to Israel would possibly return to Tel Aviv following the elections in the Palestinian Authority, due to take place January 9.
On Sunday, Israel Radio reported that Egyptian sources also indicated once Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations are restarted, Egypt will return its ambassador to Israel.
Furthermore, according to the daily, Israeli diplomatic sources confirmed Saturday a "significant warming of relations" between the two countries due to the recent intensive contacts between top officials. According to this report, the improvement in relations was evident in recent statements made by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak regarding Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and in other steps that both sides have agreed to take.