TEHRAN - Four rabbis from an ultra- orthodox anti-Zionist Jewish sect said 13 Jews on trial in Iran for espionage had been duped by Israel, state television reported on Friday.
It said rabbi Yisrael Weiss told Yusef Hamadani-Cohen, the leader of Iran's 30,000-strong Jewish community, the 13 suspects had been ``tricked'' by Israel into collecting sensitive information on Iran.
``Zionism is separate from the Jewish faith, and whoever becomes involved in Zionism ends up the loser,'' Weiss, the head of the delegation, told the Iranian rabbi.
The case of the 13 has aroused concern among mainstream overseas Jewish groups and Western officials, fearful the defendants will not get a fair hearing under Iran's system of Islamic justice.
But Weiss and his three colleagues, from the Neturei Karta movement based in Jerusalem, publicly broke ranks over the emotionally-charged case.
Neturei Karta is a Hasidic sect that does not recognise the state of Israel, Iran's arch-foe. The sect considers it blasphemous to create a Jewish state in the Holy Land before the coming of the Messiah.
Weiss said Israel had usurped Palestinian land, with the backing of the United Nations. Like the sect and other similar Jewish groups, Iran argues the Jewish state is illegitimate.
Before leaving New York for Tehran on Monday, the rabbis told Iran's official news agency the trial of the Iranian Jews was one of their reasons for the trip.
``Taking into account the amount of publicity surrounding the trial, misunderstanding between Jews and Moslems has increased to a high level and it is our aim to...reduce this misunderstanding,'' the daily Entekhab quoted one of the rabbis as saying.
Nine of the 13 Jews have admitted guilt in the closed door hearings in presence of their lawyers, four others have denied the charges.
Lawyers for most of the Jewish defendants submitted their final defence plea on Tuesday and the judge, who also carries out preliminary investigations under Iran's legal system, is expected to issue a verdict within two weeks.
The trials, monitored by diplomats and human rights groups, have focused unwanted attention on the comfortable lives many Jews have quietly carved out in the Islamic republic, home to the largest Jewish community in the Moslem Middle East.
Iran's constitution guarantees its Jews a representative in parliament and recognises Jewish laws on family matters including marriage, divorce and inheritance.
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