An Egyptian court has sentenced a nuclear engineer to life in prison for handing over nuclear secrets to Israel. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from Cairo.

The state security court in Cairo handed down the sentences in a brief session lasting only about five minutes.

The judge said Mohammed Sayed Saber Ali and two other defendants were sentenced to life in prison.

A life sentence in Egypt usually means serving about 25 years.

The other two men are citizens of Ireland and Japan who were tried in absentia. They are accused of being his contacts with the Israeli intelligence service.

During the trial, Ali repeatedly declared his innocence and said he was confident he would be acquitted. He looked visibly shocked as police led him out of the courtroom after the verdict. His wife and mother broke down in tears.

Ali is a nuclear engineer who worked at the Inshas nuclear research center, north of Cairo. Prosecutors say Ali handed the men sensitive documents about Egypt's nuclear capabilities in exchange for $17,000 while he was living in Saudi Arabia on sabbatical.

Ali acknowledges handing material over to the foreigners, but he says he did so with the blessing of Egyptian intelligence officials.

He says he contacted a security official at the Egyptian embassy in Riyadh after he became concerned about the nature of the men's requests. He said he was instructed to keep in contact with the men.

He also says he gave them nothing that would compromise Egypt's security. He says the documents he handed over were out-of-date and had already been published on the Internet.

Prosecutors say he only contacted the embassy because he was afraid he was about to be caught.

Egypt was the first Arab state to sign a peace deal with Israel. But since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1979, Egyptian courts have convicted a number of people of spying for Israel. The cases are seen as straining the two countries' relations.

The court ruling in the latest spy case comes as Arab and Israeli officials are meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh in an effort to boost the standing of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.