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The trial of former president Moshe Katsav will begin Thursday morning at Tel Aviv District Court, three years after the sexual-offense allegations came to light. Katsav is charged with the rape and sexual assault of a female aide while tourism minister, the sexual harassment of two other aides while president, and obstruction of justice.

The trial is scheduled to begin at 8:30 A.M., when Katsav will take his seat on the defendant's bench for a formal reading of the indictment. The case will be presided over by a panel of criminal-law experts: judges George Karra, Miriam Sokolov and Judith Shevach.

Katsav faces two charges of rape against a Tourism Ministry employee identified as A., one charge of sexual harassment of President's Residence employee H., and the indecent assault and sexual harassment of L., also a President's Residence employee. Katsav is also suspected of obstructing justice in allegedly trying to glean information from L. on investigative proceedings.

Katsav is expected to be asked whether he has read the indictment and understands its content. The former president is not expected to refer directly to the charges against him, as he has not yet examined the evidentiary material. But he is expected to speak with reporters before the trial gets underway.

Preparations for the trial went into high gear last week, as court spokespeople briefed photographers on protocol and security personnel prepared for possible demonstrations outside the courtroom.

Unlike previous hearings on the case, held in the small, cramped courtroom of Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, today's proceedings will be conducted in the court president's expanded quarters to make room for Israeli and foreign journalists.

On Wednesday, Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch rejected Katsav's request to relocate the trial to the Jerusalem or Be'er Sheva district courts. Katsav filed the request on the grounds that a change in venue would be bring the trial closer to his residence in Kiryat Malakhi, and that the Jerusalem venue would be more convenient for many of the witnesses expected to testify. Many of them reside in the capital or nearby.

"An examination of the indictment shows that it is would be in the comfort of many witnesses to hold the trial in Tel Aviv and the central area," Beinisch wrote.

Katsav's attorneys said in the past 48 hours they had been provided with additional evidence they had not had time to examine, including audio material of arguments between the former president and A. of the Tourism Ministry.

Also Wednesday, prosecutors asked the Tel Aviv court to close the proceedings to the public and press, with the exception of the indictment hearing. Attorneys Ronit Amiel and Nissim Marom asked the court to implement the law that states that hearings on sexual offenses must take place behind closed doors.

Last week, Tel Aviv District Court rejected the Katzav's request to delay the trial's opening, as attorneys said they had not received all the evidence collected in the case.