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From Cuban cell, Gross thanks Jewish community for support

Alan Gross, the Potomac man serving 15 years in Cuba after carrying communications equipment into the communist island nation, continues to communicate with supporters from the military hospital where he is held.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington said Monday that Gross called to express his gratitude for the efforts of the Jewish community to push for his release.

"I worked many years to reinforce the concept of community and I really feel it," Gross, 63, said during the telephone call last week, according to the council. "It's very comforting to know I'm not forgotten, it helps to sustain me. The great surprise to me is to say these words, because I worked so long for others. I truly appreciate it."

The Jewish community has participated in a weekly vigil and other demonstrations outside the Cuban Interests Section in Washington. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington on Monday reiterated its call "to end its unconscionable incarceration of Alan immediately."

Gross, who grew up around Baltimore and graduated from the University of Maryland, was trying to help Cuba's small Jewish community set up an intranet and gain better access to the Internet when he was arrested in December 2009.

Gross was working as a subcontractor to the U.S. Agency for International Development. During his trial, he called himself "a trusting fool" and said he was "duped" but didn't elaborate.

He was convicted in March 2011 of crimes against the state and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

President Barack Obama, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and Rep. Chris Van Hollen have urged Cuban authorities to release Gross. Former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have made personal appeals to the Cuban government during visits to the island.

During his incarceration, one of his daughters was treated for breast cancer and his 90-year-old mother has suffered from inoperable lung cancer. Gross himself has lost 100 pounds in prison.

He and his family have made several requests for his release on humanitarian grounds. When his daughter was treated for cancer, he asked to be allowed to visit her, and promised to return to Cuba afterward. He has now made the same request to see his mother.

"The cruelty to my mother is difficult to bear," he said during the phone call, according to the council.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

twitter.com/matthewhaybrown

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