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Iranian Jews celebrate New Year while relatives languish in prison

October 1, 2000, SHIRAZ, Iran (AP) - The Jews in this southern Iranian city went to synagogue Sunday to celebrate Rosh Hashana, the New Year.

]Some visited the local prison to meet relatives who have been convicted of spying for Israel. For the first time since their loved ones were detained more than a year ago, the Jews were allowed to take food to the inmates, Jalal Soleimani, the head of Shiraz's Jewish community told The Associated Press.

Some 6,000 Jews live in Shiraz, a city of 16 synagogues 550 miles (887 kilometers) south of Tehran, the Iranian capital. In Zand Avenue, nearly half of the shops were closed Sunday as their owners are Jews.

Ten local Jews were found guilty in July of spying for Israel and given sentences of four to 13 years in prison. In September the appeal court revised the conviction to cooperating with Israel and reduced the sentences so that the maximum punishment was nine years.

Israel, which denied any of the Jews were its agents, the United States and human rights groups condemned the closed-door trial in which the prosecutor was also the judge. The case was seen as a show of power by hard-line clerics jostling with reformists.

Jews in Iran have a tradition of eating apples, honey, pomegranates, fish and beans at festivals. And those going to the Shiraz prison on Sunday took plenty of these.

"The families ... were allowed to have one meeting with the prisoners on Friday and, extraordinarily, they were allowed to take whatever they wanted in the way of food for their relatives to celebrate the new year," Soleimani said.

Soleimani said the authorities had recently allowed the convicts' families to take food to the prison twice a week.

The prisoners have ice boxes so that they can store the food.

Iran has no diplomatic ties with Israel and bans any contact with the country, considering it an arch-foe.


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