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Israel has no knowledge of plans to release Jonathan Pollard from prison in the United States, where he is serving a life sentence for spying on Israel's behalf, political sources familiar with the matter said in response to statements by Pensioner Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan in an interview last night with the Knesset television channel.

Eitan, who headed the secret Bureau of Scientific Relations that recruited and handled Pollard in the 1980s, said yesterday that Pollard will be released soon. However, in response to a query from Haaretz, he subsequently emphasized that his words were based on "an intuition." Eitan added that he regretted his earlier statement, because anything he says might make things worse for Pollard, and that he should have said, "I hope" Pollard will be released.

Eitan hopes that President George W. Bush, who is coming to Israel next month, might on that occasion grant Pollard clemency as a goodwill gesture for Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations, or else toward the end of his tenure later this year.