Irans trial of 13 Jews looming

What happens next is anyone's guess.

"It's impossible to confirm anything because for every person who tells you one thing, someone will tell you the exact opposite," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Hoenlein has been spearheading American Jewish activism on behalf of the Jews, mostly through international diplomats and human rights groups.

On Tuesday in San Francisco, 28 board members of the United Religions Initiative signed a petition calling for the prisoners' release.

Local signers included Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Rita Semel, JCRC executive director emeritus, and Norton Miller of San Francisco.

On Wednesday in New York, about 500 people rallied for the release of the 13 Jews.

The prisoners were arrested in January and March 1999, along with eight Muslims. None has been formally charged, but they are accused of spying for Israel and the United States. Israel and the United States deny the accusations.

On Monday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told the European Jewish Congress that Iranian authorities had promised him they would "not implement capital punishment."

Iranian media reported that the chief of the Revolutionary Court, Judge Sadeq Nourani, took the unprecedented step last Friday of visiting the Jewish prisoners. Nourani reportedly wished them well and even presented each with a small, unidentified gift.

Iranian officials then distributed letters, allegedly from the prisoners. Reuters quoted from letters written by two of the prisoners.

"I could not believe that the head of the court would come in person to my cell," prisoner Asher Zadmehr wrote. "Tears fell from my eyes, and I could not talk. I hope I will be pardoned and forgiven by the great leader."