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Israel Releases Vanunu, Puts Him Under Severe Restrictions - 2004-04-20

Israel is preparing for the release Wednesday of Mordechai Vanunu, who was jailed for 18 years, after divulging secrets about the country's nuclear-weapons program. He will be placed under severe restrictions, which prevent him from leaving Israel, giving interviews on restricted subjects or meeting with foreigners.

Mordechai Vanunu will close the door of his cell behind him Wednesday, but he will not be a free man. The former technician at Israel's top-secret Dimona nuclear facility in the southern Negev desert will remain under close supervision.

His release carries conditions limiting his actions and movements.

Israeli authorities fear that the man who told Britain's Sunday Times newspaper in 1986 that Israel had a sophisticated nuclear weapons program at the Dimona site has more to tell and is determined to do so.

An Israeli Justice Ministry statement says there is a high degree of probability that Vanunu wishes to divulge state secrets, secrets that have not been previously published.

As a result, the Israeli authorities have decided to bar Vanunu from leaving the country or having contacts with people abroad without permission.

Vanunu, who is now 50-years-old, says he has no more secrets to divulge.

Yoel Cohen, the author of The Whistleblower of Dimona, says the Israeli government is keeping Vanunu inside the country to prevent him from damaging relations with the United States.

"What happens, if he goes to America and appears before a Senate committee to confirm that he worked in the Dimona project?" he asked. "Would that create a crisis over foreign aid assistance by the United States to Israel, given that there is a congressional law, which forbids U.S. federal government foreign aid assistance to any government, which has a nuclear program not under international supervision."

Israel has never confirmed the nature of its nuclear program, making it possible for U.S. aid to continue over the years.

Since his conviction, Vanunu has been the subject of an international campaign for his release. The campaign failed, and he is being released at the end of his sentence.

The ban on Vanunu leaving Israel is in force for one year, and may be renewed. He is also barred from approaching ports, entering foreign embassies, contacting foreign residents or chatting on the Internet without prior permission.

He will also be compelled to report regularly on his movements.

But observers point out, it may be difficult to enforce these measures, citing the fact that Vanunu's new home in Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv, is only 100 meters from the port.

The luxury apartment complex is also home to many foreigners.

Israeli officials say that, for this reason, they decided to ease some of the restrictions, including allowing Vanunu to talk for the first time about his abduction by agents from the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. He is expected to appeal the restrictions with the help of Israeli human rights groups.

But most Israelis believe he deserves his punishment for endangering the country's security. His image as an outcast was also reinforced when he converted to Christianity and was disowned by his father, who is a rabbi.

Israel's opposition leader, Shimon Peres, regarded as the founder of the country's nuclear program, says Vanunu betrayed his nation and should remain under restrictions.