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Israel welcomes end to convicted U.S. spy Pollard's travel ban

FILE PHOTO: Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence officer convicted of spying for Israel, exits following a hearing at the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in New York City, U.S., May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli leaders on Saturday welcomed the U.S. decision to end parole restrictions on Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence officer who served 30 years in prison after being convicted of spying for Israel.

The U.S. Justice Department’s parole commission decided on Friday to allow a travel ban on Pollard to expire. The move was seen by some as a parting gift from the Trump administration to its ally Israel.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes the lifting of the restrictions on Jonathan Pollard,” a statement from the Israeli leader’s office said.

“The Prime Minister thanked Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer for responsibly and sensitively leading the contacts with the administration. The Prime Minister hopes to see Jonathan Pollard in Israel soon,” the statement said.

Pollard pleaded guilty in 1986 to conspiracy to commit espionage in connection with providing Israeli contacts with hundreds of classified documents he had obtained as a naval intelligence specialist in exchange for thousands of dollars.

He was sentenced in 1987 to life in prison. After serving 30 years, which included time in custody following his 1985 arrest, he was released on parole in 2015 under terms which dictated he remain in the U.S. for five years.

Pollard, 66, has sought to move to Israel, which granted him citizenship while in prison and had long pushed for his release. The espionage affair strained U.S.-Israel relations for decades.

Netanyahu’s statement was echoed by other Israeli ministers and by President Ruvi Rivlin.

“Over the years we have shared in Jonathan Pollard’s pain, and felt a responsibility and commitment to bring about his release. Now we will be able to welcome him and his family home,” Rivlin said on Twitter.

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