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The Supreme Court yesterday delayed the start of former President Moshe Katsav's prison sentence until a hearing is heard on his appeal request.

Katsav was convicted of rape and other sexual offenses in December. He was originally set to begin serving a seven-year sentence, handed down in March, next Sunday. On Monday he filed an appeal against the conviction and his sentence, and asked the Supreme Court to delay the execution of his sentence until the appeal is heard.

Supreme Court Justice Yoram Danziger yesterday agreed to postpone his sentence until next Wednesday at least, when the court will hear Katsav's request for a longer postponement.

The big question now is whether Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein will support the delay. Most senior figures in the State Prosecutor's Office are thought to oppose any deferral of Katsav's sentence. Some have said there is no justification for postponement under the criteria set by an expanded Supreme Court panel a decade ago. One of the key criteria for postponement specified in that ruling is that the sentence be so brief that that the appellant would have served all or most of it before the appeal is decided. That is not the case for Katsav, whose appeal is expected to be decided within a few months - long before his seven-year sentence would end.

Moreover, these officials say, the prosecution has consistently opposed deferred sentences in rape cases, and Katsav does not merit special treatment.

In the precedent-setting case 10 years ago, the Supreme Court ultimately did defer the appellant's sentence because the appeal was slated to be decided soon in any case, while the appellant had been out on bail for quite some time already following his conviction. Since Katsav has also been out of jail for months already, his attorneys have been trying to reach an agreement with the prosecution on a similar deal, under which the court would hear the appeal swiftly, while prosecutors would support his remaining out of jail until the court issued its verdict.

No agreement has yet been reached. While Weinstein would have to approve such a deal the ultimate decision rests with the Supreme Court, which would have to justify making an exception for Katsav.