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Shalit to Obama: Free Pollard in peace talks gesture

Israelis calling for the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard during President Obama's visit to Jerusalem last year. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

Israelis calling for the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard during President Obama’s visit to Jerusalem last year. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Former captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit called on President Obama to release Jonathan Pollard as part of peace negotiations.

Shalit made his plea to the U.S. president in a letter published Monday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Acharonot that reportedly also was sent to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“These days I cannot help but feel the great pain of Jonathan Pollard, jailed some 29 years — five times longer than my period of captivity, and this is the United States, our great friend,” Shalit wrote. “The last time the State of Israel released 80 prisoners with blood on their hands as a gesture to [Abbas] it was at the request of the United States. Today, according to media reports, the US once again calls for Israel to continue releasing more terrorists within the framework of the fourth round of prisoner releases.

“Please — all of you — join me in a clear call to our friends the Americans: We released dozens of terrorists with blood on their hands at your request — so extend to us this one gesture that can likely save [Pollard's] life.”

Shalit was freed in October 2011 after being held captive by Hamas in Gaza for five years in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. He also called for Pollard’s release last December.

News agencies, citing unnamed sources, reported Monday that Pollard could be freed by the United States in exchange for concessions to the Palestinians to keep them at the peace negotiating table beyond the April 29 deadline.

Pollard, a former Defense Department employee, was convicted of spying for Israel in 1985 and was sentenced to life in prison. He is eligible for parole in November 2015. He has been ill for many years, and has had surgery at least twice in the last two years for undisclosed ailments.

Asked Monday about the possibility of releasing Pollard as part of a deal to extend the peace talks, White House spokesman James Carney told reporters, “He is a person who is convicted of espionage and is serving his sentence, and I don’t have any update on his situation.”

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