Two officials say Sharon must resign if indicted

Israeli soldiers open fire on group near border

January 23, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

JERUSALEM - Two Israeli Cabinet ministers said yesterday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would have to resign if a bribery investigation leads to his indictment.

Sharon continued to dismiss any such possibility, declaring that he would serve "at least until 2007," when elections are scheduled.

As the conflict with the Palestinians abruptly slipped to the sidelines of Israeli political debate, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a 12-year-old Palestinian boy playing near the boundary fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel, his family and hospital officials said.

The Israeli army said it could not confirm the killing. It said that soldiers had opened fire on a group of people seen approaching Gaza's fence with a ladder, and that they had wounded two. Israeli paramedics treated the casualties at the scene, then took them to an Israeli hospital, the army said.

On Wednesday, an Israeli court indicted a real estate developer on charges of paying about $700,000 to Sharon's son, Gilad, in the hope of bribing Sharon. The indictment said David Appel told Ariel Sharon that his son was expected to make a lot of money, but it did not lay out evidence that Sharon knowingly took a bribe.

Justice officials are looking into whether there is sufficient cause to indict Sharon and his son. It is likely to be weeks or months before they decide.

Public polls suggest that Sharon's personal credibility is shaky. Yet the suspicions of bribery did not come as news to the Israeli public. For months the Israeli news media have carried reports of the investigation, into whether Appel, beginning in the late 1990s when Sharon was foreign minister, had sought to buy Sharon's help in an unsuccessful plan to build a casino resort on a Greek island.

For proposed payments totaling $3 million, Appel hired Gilad Sharon to promote the plan, though, in the indictment's words, he "did not have the relevant professional skills."

For some time, jockeying has been under way within Likud to succeed Sharon. Political analysts expect that to intensify. Sharon's fellow Likud leaders have been notably silent since the indictment was announced.

One exception was Limor Livnat, the minister of education, who told Israel radio yesterday evening that Sharon "will have to resign" if indicted.

Earlier, Avraham Poraz, the minister of interior and a leader of the Shinui faction, which promotes itself in part as pursuing clean government, also said that an indictment would force Sharon to resign.

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