The first hearing in the Holyland affair opened on Monday in the Tel Aviv District Court.

The hearing comes after the State Prosecutor's Office issued 16 indictments in the case last month, against former Jerusalem municipal officials and business people suspected of taking bribes to advance the Holyland luxury construction project in the capital.

Former Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, who is among those indicted, did not attend Monday's hearing, as he appeared at another hearing on corruption and fraud charges in the Jerusalem District Court.

In the Holyland case, Olmert is suspected of taking a bribe of some NIS 1.5 million in exchange for promoting the interests of certain real estate figures when serving as mayor and also as minister of industry, trade and labor.

Olmert's former bureau chief, Shula Zaken is also accused of taking bribes amounting to an estimated NIS 350,000, which she used to cover the purchase of a house. Most of the bribes Olmert and Zaken are suspected of taking are said to have been paid by Hillel Charney, developer of the Holyland complex.

The presiding judge, David Rozen, was been asked to rule on two requests. One is from the prosecution, asking that the state's witness in the case be allowed to testify as early as possible, because of his poor medical condition.

The second is from the former head of the Israel Lands Administration, Yaakov Efrati, charged with bribe-taking in another case, who is seeking a separate trial - not with the other defendants in the Holyland case.

Attorneys for businessman Danny Dankner opposed moving up the testimony of the state's witness, arguing that it is not justified since, according to man's medical file, his condition is not terminal.

The developers of the ambitious Holyland project - which includes 1,000 housing units, some of them in two huge, 30-story towers - are alleged to have provided long-term bribes to elected officials and their associates in exchange for expediting planning procedures, increasing the size of the area slated for construction, and changing zoning rules.