Olmert ally to quit over sex charges

Haim Ramon, the Israeli justice minister, is to resign, one day after the attorney general decided to indict him over accusations of sexual harassment.

    Ramon (L) strongly supported the unilateral Gaza pullout

    Ramon, a close aide of Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, and a leading  member of the governing Kadima party, will announce his resignation on Sunday, in a move set to deal a further death blow to the Israeli government's visions of leaving the West Bank.

    "The minister has decided to tender his resignation on Sunday in keeping with his decision to renounce his parliamentary immunity," spokesman Tzahi Moshe told AFP on Friday.

    Menachem Mazuz, the Israeli attorney-general, on Thursday decided to indict Ramon over accusations of sexual harassment lodged by a woman  soldier, in keeping with the recommendation of a police investigation.

    The woman reportedly said the justice minister tried "to kiss her in an aggressive manner" during a social gathering at the defence ministry in Tel Aviv, days after Israel launched its 34-day war in Lebanon.

    Ramon, a lawyer, veteran MP and two-time interior minister, has categorically denied the allegations. His fall from grace makes him the latest in a string of senior Israeli state figures to be hit by scandal, including Olmert and Moshe Katsav, the president.

    "I am certain of my innocence and will prove it in court," he  told national television just hours before his spokesman announced his resignation, marking the end of a three-month tenure as justice minister.

    Another woman on Friday claimed in the Maariv newspaper that Ramon had also sexually harassed her three years ago.

    Commentators had warned that the indictment might force the divorced father of two to step down, hammering a further nail in the coffin of visions to redraw Israel's borders with the Palestinians of which Ramon was a major proponent.

    Simultaneously fighting off the allegations of sexual  harrasement, Ramon emerged one of the most hawkish ministers during  Israel's offensive in Lebanon, urging "maximum firepower" in a conflict that left more than 1,000 people dead.



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