November 20, 2015 / 9:50 AM / 2 years ago

Israeli spy Pollard released after 30 years in U.S. prison

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Convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard (C), who was released from a U.S. federal prison in North Carolina overnight, leaves U.S. District court with his wife, Elaine Zeitz, in the Manhattan borough of New York, November 20, 2015.Lucas Jackson

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard was released on Friday after 30 years in an American prison but he will stay in the United States under strict parole conditions in a case that strained relations between the two allies for decades.

Pollard, a former civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy, was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in 1987 of passing classified information to Israel.

He was released from a federal prison in North Carolina and headed to New York, where he was set up for electronic monitoring as required under his parole, according to spokesmen for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Marshals Service.

"After 30 years in prison, he wants to get his life back on track," said Eliot Lauer, one of Pollard's attorneys.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, which has long pushed for Pollard to be freed, welcomed his release. But Netanyahu has urged Israelis not to celebrate too much in case that damages efforts to persuade the U.S. government to let Pollard leave for Israel sooner.

Pollard, who was granted Israeli citizenship while in prison, has said he wants to emigrate to Israel, where his wife lives and where he can expect to receive substantial Israeli government back pay.

"I'm sorry, I can't comment on anything today," the 61-year-old Pollard told a swarm of reporters as he left the courthouse in Manhattan with his wife, Esther, after being fitted for the monitoring.

Pollard's lawyers filed a petition with the court seeking to rescind the parole conditions, calling them "onerous and oppressive."

He will be required to wear an electronic bracelet so his movements can be monitored at all times.

His computers and those of his employer will be subjected to unfettered monitoring, something his lawyers said could prevent Pollard from starting a job in research at an unnamed New York City investment firm.

On Parole

As part of his parole, Pollard must remain in the United States for five years, although his lawyers have asked President Barack Obama to commute his sentence, allowing him to go to Israel immediately.

U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said Obama "has no plans to alter the forms of his parole" to allow him to leave the United States.

Successive U.S. administrations had resisted Israeli calls to show the unrepentant Pollard clemency, though Washington did, at times, mull an early release as part of its efforts to revive talks on Palestinian statehood in Israel-occupied territories.

"The people of Israel welcome the release of Jonathan Pollard," Netanyahu said in a statement on Friday. "After three long and difficult decades, Jonathan has been reunited with his family."

The U.S. Justice Department helped smooth the way for the

freeing of Pollard, who was already eligible for mandatory

parole in November, by declining to raise objections that could

have delayed his release.

In July, Secretary of State John Kerry denied that a decision by the U.S. Parole Commission to free Pollard was a U.S. gesture to try to dampen Israeli objections to the nuclear agreement struck between Iran and major world powers.

Additional reporting by Roselle Chen in Butner, North Carolina, Roberta Rampton in Washington and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alistair Bell

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