Israel lawmakers appeal to Obama for spy's release

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israeli MPs on Wednesday handed President Shimon Peres a petition 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 120 members of the Knesset 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 spokesman for Ms 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 Mr Ehud Barak was defence minister, the US embassy in Tel Aviv rented an apartment opposite his penthouse to spy on him.

The petition said that "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.

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni - who is also Israel's chief negotiator to peace talks with the Palestinians - and Mr Amram Mitzna from Livni's Hatnua party were among the MPs who did not sign the petition, as well as several Arab Israeli lawmakers, Ms Shaked's spokesman 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 Mr Netanyahu might condition the release of Arab Israeli prisoners on Pollard being pardoned, a request Washington has so far refused.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.