By Roselle Chen and Ari Rabinovitch
BUTNER, N.C./JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard was released on parole on Friday after 30 years in a U.S. prison, Israeli and U.S. officials said, in a case that seriously strained relations between the close allies.
The former U.S. Navy analyst early Friday morning left a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, about 45 miles north of Raleigh, said Edmond Ross, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
"The people of Israel welcome the release of Jonathan Pollard," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. "After three long and difficult decades, Jonathan has been reunited with his family."
Under the terms of his parole, Pollard must remain in the United States for five years.
He was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in 1987 of passing reams of classified information to Israel. Now 61, Pollard has said he wants to immigrate to Israel, where his second wife lives and where he can expect to receive substantial Israeli government back pay.
Pollard, a Jewish-American, was granted Israeli citizenship while in prison.
"This is a dramatic moment ... This is a historic moment that brings to an end a tremendous effort that spanned many years," Effie Lahav, head of the committee in Israel that lobbied for Pollard's release, said on Army Radio.
Netanyahu has instructed Israelis to stay low key about Pollard's release because of concerns that too warm a celebration might damage efforts to persuade the U.S. government to let him leave for Israel sooner.
Successive U.S. administrations had resisted Israeli calls to show the unrepentant Pollard clemency, though Washington did, at times, mull an early release as part of its efforts to revive talks on Palestinian statehood in Israel-occupied territories.
Pollard's legal team has called on U.S. President Barack Obama to allow him to go to Israel immediately after his release, while noting that he has a job and a place to live in the United States.
A U.S. official said Obama did not have any plans to alter the terms of his parole to allow Pollard leave the United States.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Jeffrey Benkoe)