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Officials Express Hope Israeli Will Be Released from Cairo Jail

Guarded hope was raised here Wednesday that Israeli furniture dealer David Ovitz may be released this week from an Egyptian prison, where he has been confined for more than two months on suspicion of espionage, though no charges have been filed against him.

There seemed to be a slim chance that Ovitz will spend the Friday night Passover seder with his family in Givatayim, as Israel has formally asked Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to have him freed.

Mubarak reportedly met Wednesday with his interior minister, Abdul Halim Mussa, to discuss the Ovitz case, and a decision to release him may be announced Thursday.

According to Zvi Gabai, head of the Egyptian desk at the Foreign Ministry, Israel has received a promise from Cairo that the Ovitz matter would be settled promptly. Israel has made clear to the Egyptians that Ovitz has no connection with any official bodies.

Meanwhile, the Israeli consul general in Cairo, Ronni Porat, visited Ovitz in prison Wednesday to bring him a package of Passover items.

Several young Likud activists demonstrated Wednesday outside the home of the Egyptian ambassador, Mohammed Basyouni, demanding the immediate release of Ovitz.

He was arrested early in February, shortly after the Cairo authorities seized three members of an Israeli Arab family traveling in Egypt and accused them of spying.

Farres Mussarti, 41, of Ramla, his son Majid, 21, and his 17-year-old daughter, Faya, are awaiting trial for espionage. They reportedly confessed and implicated Ovitz, who says he is innocent.

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