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Netanyahu promises Israel's ex-spy in U.S. a warm welcome home

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised Jonathan Pollard, an American who spent 30 years in U.S. prison for spying for Israel, a warm welcome and a comfortable life in Israel now that parole restrictions have ended.

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“We are waiting for you, even during the time of the coronavirus, with open arms, and you will receive the genuine embrace of the Israeli people,” Netanyahu said in a video distributed by his office on Tuesday of part of a telephone call with Pollard and his wife Esther on Monday.

A former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, Pollard was arrested in 1985 outside the Israeli embassy in Washington - which turned him away as he sought refuge with law enforcement closing in. Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987.

On Friday, parole restrictions imposed after Pollard’s release in 2015 expired. Pollard, 66, said he and his spouse would go to Israel to live, but no date for their travel has been announced.

“You should have now a comfortable life where you can pursue, both of you can pursue, your interests and we can take care of Esther (with) the best medical treatment in the world,” Netanyahu told Pollard, whose wife has been ill.

While in prison, the Texas-born Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship, and Israel had long pushed for his release but was spurned by several U.S. presidents.

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

A U.S. Central Intelligence Agency “damage assessment”, made public in 1987, said Pollard had believed U.S. intelligence support of close ally Israel was inadequate.

The U.S. Justice Department’s decision not to reimpose any limits on Pollard’s movements was seen by some as a parting gift by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to Israel.

“I truly want to congratulate you that your nightmare is over and you can return home, to Israel,” Netanyahu told Pollard. “It will truly be a big moment - a big moment for us all.”

Editing by Mark Heinrich

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