Kiss Controversy Claims Israeli Official

The Associated Press
Friday, August 18, 2006; 11:33 AM

JERUSALEM -- Israel's justice minister, a key ally of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, announced Friday that he will resign, clearing the way for him to stand trial on accusations he forcibly kissed an 18-year-old female soldier.

Haim Ramon's announcement came a day after Israel's attorney general announced plans to indict him, the latest blow to a government politically weakened by the 34-day war against Lebanese guerrillas.

Ramon said in a statement that he had waived his parliamentary immunity and his right to a special hearing with the attorney general. He said he would leave office on Sunday. Ramon asked Attorney General Meni Mazuz to ensure a speedy trial "for personal reasons, but also because of public interest."

Ramon, 56, is suspected of forcibly kissing the soldier during a farewell party at a government office. The incident allegedly took place July 12, the day the war erupted.

The indecent assault charge against Ramon carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison, justice officials said.

"I am sure that I will succeed in court. A kiss of two, three seconds, based on the version of the complainant, cannot be turned into a criminal act," Ramon said in a statement.

Mazuz said earlier he had little choice but to proceed.

"When the complainant's testimony is consistent and perceived to be credible, and is supported by other testimony, there is no choice but to file an indictment and bring the case to be settled in court," he said in a statement.

Ramon, a leading member of the ruling Kadima Party, is considered a key Olmert ally and one of the biggest supporters of a plan to unilaterally withdraw from much of the West Bank by 2010.

Ramon is the latest in a string of top Israeli officials placed under investigation.

Israel's State Comptroller is looking into a Jerusalem property deal involving Olmert. President Moshe Katsav has been accused by a former employee of sexual harassment, though no charges have been filed. Tzahi Hanegbi of Kadima, the chairman of parliament's influential Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, was informed earlier this week he would be charged with fraud, bribery and perjury.

© 2006 The Associated Press