Russia court rejects appeal by Israeli-American jailed on drugs charges

An Moscow court on Thursday rejected an appeal by an Israeli-American woman convicted in October on charges of smuggling cannabis into Russia and sentenced her to seven-and-a-half years in prison.

The case of Naama Issachar, 26, has raised diplomatic tensions between Russia and Israel where a high profile campaign has been waged for her release.

Issachar was caught with nine grammes of the drug in her checked luggage while transiting from India to Israel at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport in April.

Speaking in court, she protested her innocence and denied even buying cannabis. She said she had been forced to sign documents in Russian that incriminated herself.

But judge Elena Vorontsova said that her appeal had been rejected.

Her lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant said the defence would continue to fight her case said that she could be pardoned by President Vladimir Putin without any conditions.

Israeli charge d'affaires Yacov Livne said he was "disappointed" by the ruling and expressed hope she could return home soon after nine months in prison.

Her sentencing has sparked outrage in Israel and calls for the Israeli government to intervene. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has called on Putin to pardon Issachar.

Billboards have been put up in Israel calling on Putin to "please bring Naama home." Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also raised her detention with President Putin.

Israeli media have suggested that Issachar could be used in a prisoner swap.

Initial reports pointed to Alexei Burkov, a Russian alleged hacker in Israeli custody facing extradition to the United States, but Israel's top court last month upheld an extradition order.

Putin has reportedly put off any decision on the case until Israel, which is facing its third election in a year, has a new government.

General elections in April and September resulted in deadlock, meaning the country will again head to the polls on March 2.

New polls are now due in March, after Netanyahu was neck-and-neck with centrist rival Benny Gantz in April and September polls.

Israeli media also said this week that more than 40 Israeli citizens were detained for several hours in Moscow before allowed to enter Russia.

The Russian embassy in Tel Aviv for its part complained that as of December 1 more than 5,700 Russians had been denied entry to Israel despite the two countries enjoying a visa-waiver programme.