By Sbastien Blanc
Jewish American spy Jonathan Pollard has been released from a US prison after serving nearly 30 years for passing American secrets to Israel, in a move welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The decades-long punishment has been deemed disproportionate by the Jewish state, where Pollard is seen by some as a national hero.
Netanyahu, who has long pressed for Pollard's release, said on Friday (local time) that "after three long and difficult decades Jonathan is at last reunited with his family".
"The people of Israel welcome the release of Jonathan Pollard," he said.
"As someone who raised Jonathan's case for years with successive American presidents, I had long hoped this day would come," Netanyahu said.
Jacques Semmelman, one of Pollard's two lawyers, confirmed to AFP the 61-year-old's pre-dawn release from a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina.
Announcement of his release was also made by his main support group in Israel.
But Pollard still remains barred from leaving the United States for five years.
A US court jailed Pollard, a Stanford University graduate and former US Navy intelligence analyst, for life in 1987 after he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to deliver national defence information to a foreign government.
Pollard's release on parole comes almost 30 years to the day of his arrest on November 21, 1985.
In a sign of the case's sensitivity, Netanyahu had asked his ministers to refrain from claiming a victory upon Pollard's release, according to local media.
Pollard's lawyers have shown similar discretion in recent days, refusing to give details of the prisoner's plans once he is freed.
However, they have said that he has given assurances that he has a job and a place to live in the New York area.
According to Pollard's family, the former spy, who was born in Texas, wishes to settle in Israel with Esther Zeitz, a Canadian Jew involved in campaigning for his release and whom he married in prison.
The release allows Pollard, who became very religious behind bars, to observe the Jewish Sabbath which begins at sundown on Friday.
Pollard's involvement with spying began after he joined the US Navy, and eventually received sufficient security clearance to access Top Secret and Sensitive Compartmented Information.
He made contact in June 1984 with an Israeli colonel, Aviem Sella, who was pursuing graduate studies at New York University, and offered to provide him with classified information.
He soon began supplying a stream of intelligence to the Israelis, reportedly thousands of documents.
Pollard is also alleged to have passed classified information to South Africa, and to have given his then-wife, Anne, documents on China for use in her personal business.
Washington later accused Pollard of causing considerable harm to US interests during the Cold War, although the full scope of his take has never been publicly disclosed.
He claimed only to have passed information vital to Israel's security that had been withheld by the Americans.