Tue, Jun 15, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Attorney-general decides not to indict Ariel Sharon

REUTERS , JERUSALEM

Israel's attorney-general has decided not to indict Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on bribery charges, Israeli television said on Sunday, signaling the end of a scandal overshadowing his landmark Gaza pullback plan.

Israeli officials were not available for comment on the Channel Ten report that Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz had closed the case due to lack of evidence against Sharon. Mazuz is expected to issue his formal decision some time this week.

Indictment would likely force Sharon from office and derail his strategy of "disengagement" from the Palestinians, which the cabinet approved in principle last week in a vote that enraged his pro-settler partners and triggered a coalition crisis.

But removal of the indictment threat would give Sharon a boost in scrapping all 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four of the 120 in the West Bank by the end of next year -- a move he casts as breaking a deadlock in 30 months of conflict.

The plan has popular backing in Israel. Sources in Sharon's office said on Sunday that dozens of settlers had asked for details of compensation for leaving their homes voluntarily.

The bribery case centers on payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars that an Israeli land developer was said to have made to Sharon's son Gilad, hired in the late 1990s as an advisor on a never-completed project to build a Greek resort.

The developer, David Appel, was indicted in January on charges of trying to bribe Sharon. Israel's chief prosecutor has officially recommended indicting the prime minister as well.

An end to the so-called "Greek island affair" could ease the entry of the opposition Labor Party into government to shore up a coalition hit by far-right defections that have stripped it of a majority.

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