By unanimous consensus, the U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a bipartisan resolution demanding that Cuban authorities immediately release imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross.

The non-binding resolution, introduced by Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin and Kansas Republican Jerry Moran, is Congress' first formal pronouncement on the issue.

Now 63, Gross was detained in Havana three years ago in possession of satellite communications equipment he said he was planning to distribute among Cuba's Jewish community.

Havana says he was illegally aiding dissidents and inciting subversion on the Communist-ruled island. Last August, Cuba's highest court upheld the 15-year jail sentence imposed on Gross five months earlier.

Gross was working for a firm hired by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Senate resolution said Gross' health has "seriously deteriorated" over the past three years, during which time he has developed degenerative arthritis in a leg and a problem in a shoulder, and they are asking that he be examined by an "independent" physician.

Havana says that Gross is not suffering from any life-threatening illness, is being taken care of by a "world class" medical team, is receiving "decorous and humane" treatment and is in weekly telephone contact with his relatives, lawyers and friends.

The State Department demands that Gross be released and has rejected the concept that the case is comparable to that of the "Cuban Five," the group of Cuban agents serving sentences for espionage in the United States.

Gross' wife, Judy Gross, has turned to the public and to Congress to exert pressure for her husband's release and so that the United States and Cuba will sit down to negotiate and take steps toward a frank dialogue regarding the bilateral agenda. EFE