PA Mahmoud Abbas asks Cuba to release American Jew, Alan Gross from prison.

An unexpected source requested Cuba to release Alan Gross, a Jewish prisoner jailed in Cuba. In early March, President Mahmoud Abbas, went to the Cuban leader Raul Castro, with the unusual request.

By: John Roberts


According to a senior Israeli negotiator who established the ties, Abbas wanted Castro to free Alan Gross, an American Jew imprisoned in Havana since late 2009.

The broker, peace activist Gershon Baskin, says Gross “is being held hostage.” The view is shared by much of the U.S. Jewish community and the State Department, which has no direct ties to Cuba. Palestine, however, has an excellent relationship with the island nation, so Baskin contacted Abbas.

“I asked him to intervene, and he did,” Baskin said in an interview. “It was a very good humanitarian gesture by Mahmoud Abbas,” he said, but the talks failed to secure the release of Gross.

The unexpected gesture raised eyebrows of many, until recent emails stolen in May from a Palestinian Authority cabinet minister provided a clue.

Published online, the messages show Palestinian officials were desperate to convince a powerful Cuban-American legislator to lift a ban on $147 million allocated for civilian aid to the Palestinians.

The congressman is Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, president of the Foreign Affairs Committee who is one of the fiercest critics of the Castro regime in Washington. Alan Gross is from Maryland, but his situation is a priority for many of the southern provinces of Florida.

Three weeks after Abbas contact with Castro, Ros-Lehtinen, gave half of the funds or $89 million to the Palestinians that was held up for seven months to protest Palestinian efforts to seek UN membership. On March 23, the legislator sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, explaining that she “no longer objects” to the distribution of aid for water programs, health and food to the Palestinians.

Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian president.

The letter made no mention of the Palestinian proposals to Castro, but a person involved in the campaign to free Gross said the congressman had agreed to consider releasing the money if Abbas did ask Cuba for his release. She was first approached with the proposal by one of the lawyers of Gross.


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