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Mubarak rejects Israel’s plea to release Israeli Druse from jail

JERUSALEM, Sept. 9 (JTA) – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign to win the release of an Israeli Druse jailed in Egypt for espionage. In a seven-page letter to Netanyahu, Mubarak said last week that Netanyahu’s high-profile efforts made it virtually impossible for Mubarak to do anything on Azam Azam’s behalf. Azam, a mechanic at an Israeli textile firm in Cairo, was convicted late last month in a Cairo security court of spying for Israel and sentenced to 15 years in jail with hard labor. Because Egyptian law allows for no appeals of the security court’s verdict, only a presidential pardon from Mubarak could secure Azam’s release. In his letter to Netanyahu, Mubarak complained that in light of the high-profile attention Netanyahu gave the case, any move by the Egyptian leader to help Azam would appear as a capitulation to Israel, according to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. Mubarak also accused Netanyahu of taking up Azam’s case in order to win support from Israel’s Druse population. Mubarak added that Netanyahu was solely motivated by Israeli public opinion, while ignoring the fact that Mubarak faced his own domestic public opinion and pressures. “You can’t ignore 62 million Egyptian citizens,” Mubarak is quoted as writing. “You are not the only ones with internal public opinion.” The letter also stated that, in contrast to the Azam case, Israel and Egypt last year quietly resolved the arrest of another Israeli citizen suspected of spying. The Israeli, a businessman, was secretly deported from Egypt. Mubarak urged Netanyahu to halt Israel’s public calls for the release of Azam and asked that the matter be dealt with quietly. In another development, an Israeli court this week released from custody a Druse student detained a month ago on suspicion of spying for Syria. The Acre Magistrates Court released Ilham Abu Salakh on more than $14,000 bail after she agreed to leave her passport at a local police station and report there daily for the next 45 days. Abu Salakh, 31, was detained Aug. 10, several days before she was due to return to Damascus, where she was due to start her fourth year of studies in psychology at Damascus University. A resident of the Druse town of Majdal Shams on the Golan Heights, she is president of the university’s Golan Student Association. She was detained on suspicion of making contact with a foreign agent and spying for Syria. Abu Salakh has denied the allegations against her. The prosecutor is expected to decide in the coming days whether to press charges or not. Earlier this week, the Acre court also released on bail Nadia Foudah, an Israeli Arab detained on suspicion of spying for Iraq. According to prosecutors, Foudah allegedly had a relative gather security-related pictures and materials, which Foudah then passed on to foreign agents while living in Egypt with her Egyptian husband. No charges have been filed.

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