JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s state attorney
recommended yesterday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon be indicted
for bribe-taking, officials said, in what is seen as a major
— but not final — step toward his possible
resignation.

Such an unprecedented indictment of an Israeli prime minister
could derail Sharon’s proposal to withdraw from much of the
Gaza Strip — or entice him to move more quickly on the
“disengagement” plan, which has broad support in
Israel.

Sharon is meeting with President Bush in two weeks to try to win
U.S. backing for a Gaza withdrawal.

In Gaza, the new Hamas leader branded Bush “the enemy of
God, the enemy of Islam,” but stopped short of threatening to
attack U.S. targets in retaliation for last week’s
assassination by Israel of the Islamic militant group’s
founder.

Israeli opposition leaders demanded that Sharon step aside while
under the cloud of indictment — but the prime
minister’s aides said he planned to conduct business as
usual. In the event of an indictment, there would be considerable
pressure on Sharon to suspend himself or resign. The prime minister
has been plagued by corruption allegations since he was elected in
2001.

A resignation could trigger early elections. But Sharon’s
most likely successor, former premier Benjamin Netanyahu, is not
considered a supporter of Sharon’s proposals to pull out of
Gaza and parts of the West Bank — areas captured in the 1967
war.

Yesterday’s recommendation by State Attorney Edna Arbel to
indict Sharon is not the last word on the matter. The final
decision is up to Attorney General Meni Mazuz, who is expected to
make a ruling within a month. However, Arbel’s opinion
carries considerable weight and puts pressure on Mazuz —
appointed by the government a few months ago — to concur.

Police have been investigating Sharon on suspicion he accepted
$690,000 in bribes from Israeli businessman David Appel to help
promote a tourism project in Greece and rezone urban land in Tel
Aviv. Sharon allegedly received bribes as foreign minister in 1999,
and after he was elected prime minister.

Appel was indicted in January for allegedly bribing Sharon, but
investigators still have to prove that Sharon knew he was being
bribed. Sharon’s son, Gilad, allegedly was paid large sums of
money so that his father would use his influence to push the
project forward.

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