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White House calls on Cuba to release Gross

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration called for the immediate release of Alan Gross hours after the contractor’s final appeal to Cuba’s courts failed. 

"We call on the government of Cuba to release Alan Gross immediately and unconditionally, to allow him to return to his family and bring to an end the long ordeal that began well over a year ago," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement just hours after Cuba’s Supreme Court upheld Gross’ 15-year sentence for Gross for "crimes against the state."

U.S. authorities, Gross’ family and his employer have said he was engaged in Jewish outreach.

Gross was convicted and sentenced in May. The high court heard an appeal last month and delivered its decision Friday.

Reuters reported that the court rejected Gross’ claim, made in an appearance last month,  that he had not intended any harm.

Also calling for his release were the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Anti-Defamation  League.

Cuban authorities detained Gross in late 2009 on his way out of the country, saying he was a spy.

Gross’ family and State Department officials say Gross was in the country on a U.S. Agency for International Development contract to help the country’s 1,500 Jews communicate with other Jewish communities using the Internet.

His American lawyer, Peter Kahn, said the family’s hope was that Cuba would release Gross for humanitarian reasons or through a deal with the United States.

“While we are not surprised, we are extremely disappointed with today’s ruling, which marks the end of Alan’s legal process in Cuba," he said in a statement. "Now, more than ever, we call upon the two countries to resolve their dispute over Alan’s activities diplomatically, and request that President Raúl Castro release Alan immediately on humanitarian grounds."

Gross is in ill health. His daughter has breast cancer, and his mother was diagnosed recently with cancer, as well.

DAI, the Maryland-based U.S. government contractor that subcontracted Gross for the Cuba mission, said it was "bitterly disappointed" with the verdict.

"Alan Gross has done nothing more than help peaceful people gain access to the Internet, and for that he has already served more than a year and a half in prison," it said in a statement. "Despite today’s ruling, we urge that the Cuban government take into account the medical situation confronting Alan and his family, and quickly allow him to come home.”

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