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Israelis ´hopeful´ on release for U.S. spy Pollard (REUTERS) By Dan Williams JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 05/17/05 07:18 AM ET)Source: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=8515248 Reuters News Service Reuters News Service Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel expects imminent progress in its bid to secure the release of Jonathan Pollard, an ex-U.S. Navy intelligence analyst convicted of spying for the Jewish state in the 1980s, political sources said on Tuesday.

They said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, keen to shore up support among Israeli right-wingers split by his plan to withdraw from the occupied Gaza Strip this summer, raised the issue with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last month.

Israel´s ambassador to Washington, Danny Ayalon, was to meet Pollard in prison on Tuesday -- the first such visit by an Israeli envoy -- to deliver an "expression of concern" from Sharon, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

"We believe and hope there will be progress in the matter of Pollard during the summer," a source in Sharon´s office said.

Past U.S. administrations have stood firm in the face of Israeli appeals to free Pollard, who was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1986 for passing secrets to Israel.

Former CIA director George Tenet reportedly threatened to quit in 1998 after then-U.S. President Bill Clinton agreed to review the case, which jarred Israel´s ties with its chief ally.

Tenet´s successor Porter Goss, then a congressman, in 1999 sponsored a House resolution demanding Pollard be kept behind bars, saying: "The amount of information he sold is immense, the American lives he has put at risk are irreplaceable and the damage he did to our national security is incalculable."

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told reporters last week that he and Sharon had decided "concrete action" was needed on Pollard. "Twenty years in jail is a long time," Shalom said.

Pollard´s lawyer said the Israeli ambassador´s jail visit suggested Israel was "treating the matter seriously."

"The significance of this is in stepping up the importance of the issue," attorney Larry Dub told Israel´s Army Radio. "Until now, something that would not have been too costly, sending the ambassador, had not happened."

Asked about the renewed Israeli efforts to free Pollard, the spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv declined comment.

Israel has said Pollard was recruited by a maverick intelligence unit, which was dismantled after the scandal broke.

Earlier this month, Defense Department analyst Larry Franklin was arrested on charges of disclosing top-secret information on potential attacks on American forces in Iraq to two employees of the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC.

Sharon, who is to address AIPAC -- the American Israel Public Affairs Committee -- in Washington next week, has said Israel had no involvement in the Franklin case. (© Reuters 2005. 05/17/05)

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