Israelis call for the release of Jonathan Pollard during a protest outside the US embassy in Tel Aviv, on June 19, 2011
Israelis call for the release of Jonathan Pollard during a protest outside the US embassy in Tel Aviv, on June 19, 2011 © David Buimovitch - AFP/File
Israelis call for the release of Jonathan Pollard during a protest outside the US embassy in Tel Aviv, on June 19, 2011
AFP
Last updated: January 1, 2014

Israel lawmakers appeal to Obama for spy's release

Israeli MPs handed President Shimon Peres a petition on Wednesday urging the United States to release imprisoned Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, after reports Washington spied on its own allies.

"Pollard has served 29 years in prison for the severe offences he committed," reads the petition, which was signed by 106 of the 120 members of the Israeli parliament and addressed to US President Barack Obama. "The conditions have ripened for his release."

The former US Navy analyst was arrested in 1985 for giving Israel thousands of secret documents about US espionage in the Arab world. He was sentenced to life in prison.

A spokeswoman for Ayelet Shaked of the far-right Jewish Home party, one of the authors of the petition, told AFP the initiative was motivated by the recent revelations of US spying on Israeli leaders.

The New York Times reported last month that between 2008 and 2011, US and British intelligence agencies tapped the communications of then premier Ehud Olmert, among other foreign leaders, according to secret documents revealed by intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot reported that in 2007, when Ehud Barak was defence minister, the US embassy in Tel Aviv rented an apartment opposite his penthouse to spy on him.

The petition said: "Senior officials in previous administrations, both in the security establishment and within the American intelligence community, have expressed their opinion that Pollard should be released.

"Mr. President, we ask that you give proper consideration to all the requests that have been made to you and order the release of Jonathan Pollard for humanitarian and humane reasons," it said.

Peres, who was asked to pass on the letter to Obama, said it was "both a right and a duty" for him to do so.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni -- who is also Israel's chief negotiator in peace talks with the Palestinians -- were among the MPs who did not sign the petition, alongside Arab Israeli lawmakers, Shaked's spokeswoman said.

Palestinians expect Arab Israelis to be among the prisoners freed in a release set for April that is linked to US-brokered peace talks.

Israeli media reported that Netanyahu might condition the release of Arab Israeli prisoners on Pollard being pardoned, a request Washington has so far refused.

Last month, Netanyahu met Pollard's wife Esther, and told her of his government's efforts to secure the release of her husband, who obtained Israeli citizenship in 1995.

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