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Journalist and author Yaakov Ha'elyon, 71, was convicted yesterday of the statutory rape of a 14-year-old and sexually assaulting her sister, who was 21 at the time.

"I have zero pangs of conscience, I am at peace with myself, I am innocent," Ha'elyon said after verdict was read.

Ha'elyon met the younger girl more than six years ago, through her parents, and the two began an online correspondence, which he kept confidential. Ha'elyon began sending the girl sexual messages and invited her to plays, lectures and movies. On four of these occasions they had sexual intercourse.

Ha'elyon's actions came to light after the girl's older sister came to show him a video she had prepared for her journalism studies, and he assaulted her. The older girl, suspecting Ha'elyon was treating her sister in a similar way, told their mother, and the younger girl then disclosed the nature of their relationship.

The mother told Ha'elyon's wife, Yael Ha'elyon, who was principal of Tel Aviv's arts high school. The next day, in October 2002, Yael Ha'elyon jumped to her death from the couple's Tel Aviv apartment window.

In his verdict, Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court Judge Chanan Efrati wrote: "With all of the experience and the openness that the Creator gave me I have tried and failed to find any rational explanation for the deep, daily e-mail communication, the dozens of messages a day and many intense meetings, a significant number of which took place without other adults, youths or minors."

Efrati said the complainants had no motive for falsely accusing Ha'elyon and thus infringing on their own privacy.

After the ruling, Ha'elyon said the police, the prosecution, the media and the complainants' family had behaved in a manipulative manner.

"It was a totally innocent relationship. You people wrote that there were thousands of sexual e-mails. There wasn't even one," Ha'elyon said. "I stopped living then, I'm living in a nightmare."

He said that he was anxious about sentencing, but had no regrets: "What should I regret? I didn't do anything."

When asked about his wife's death, Ha'elyon said she was murdered.

The victims' mother said she was happy the affair was over.

"He tried to confuse the court with false claims. The man is a pathological liar, a swindler and a pedophile, we've been through a six-year nightmare and now we are looking forward," she said.