Ruhama Avraham, the committee chairwoman said: "From this moment the president is temporarily suspended. He can no longer exercise his powers".

 

Dalia Yitzik, the parliament speaker, becomes interim president, Avraham said, making her Israel's first female head of state.

  

The leave of absence allows Katsav to retain presidential immunity from prosecution. Katsav's seven-year term runs out in late July.

Avraham said that many MPs had wanted tougher measures against Katsav, and discussions to impeach him could begin next week.
   
"For many lawmakers it is not suitable and not correct that the president should be able to continue in his role for a single day longer," she said.

Impeachment by a three-quarters parliamentary majority would allow a trial to take place before July.

 
Mounting pressure
 
On Wednesday, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, called for Katsav to resign over the allegations
 
Olmert said: "I have no doubt that the president cannot continue and fulfil his position and he should leave the residence of the president of Israel."
 
Profile

Moshe Katsav

Mazuz announced on Tuesday that he planned to indict Katsav on suspicion that he raped a former staff member and sexually assaulted three other women who worked for him.
 
Katsav called the allegations "smears and lies" that were "terrible, hurtful" and said: "I will fight to my last breath to clear my name."
 
He said he had already suffered a "trial by media".