Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday called on the United States to release Jonathan Pollard from prison, after reports of a deterioration in the American-Israeli spy's health.
"It is time to release Pollard. The Festival of Freedom of all the Jews should turn into Pollard's private one," Netanyahu said in remarks relayed by his office, using a synonym for the Passover holiday Jews are currently celebrating.
"I have done much for his release, and will continue to act for it."
On Friday, Israeli media reported that Pollard was rushed to hospital near his North Carolina prison. Israel's Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger took the opportunity of a Sunday holiday visit paid by President Shimon Peres to convey an appeal to the US leadership for the freedom of the 57-year-old Pollard.
"We call on the US president that in such a situation, he will pardon Pollard and realise that after 27 years it is time to set this Jew free."
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A spokesman for the rabbi told AFP that Metzger has recently been holding talks with senior officials in the White House, including Vice President Joe Biden, and that Metzger felt that their stance on Pollard had "softened."
"The rabbi's request is that from hospital, Pollard be discharged to freedom," the spokesman said.
Peres told Pollard's wife Esther on Sunday that he was "bothered and concerned by the recent reports" about Pollard's health, and said he would ask President Barack Obama "to positively consider releasing Pollard," in light of his medical condition
Pollard, a former US Navy analyst, passed thousands of secret documents about American spy activities in the Arab world to Israel between May 1984 and his arrest in November 1985.
He was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995 and was officially recognised by the Jewish state as an Israeli spy in 1998.
Israelis say that Pollard's punishment and the long-standing US refusal to reduce his sentence have been particularly harsh, given that he gave information to a friendly nation.