Pres. Katsav Extends Period of Incapacity After Public Outcry

President Moshe Katsav decided yesterday to extend his period of incapacity in the wake of a public firestorm that arose after a report that the president - who faces charges of rape, sexual assault and fraud - might return to public office next week.

Katsav's lawyers are set to submit a request this morning to Knesset House Committee chair Ruhama Avraham asking that the period of temporary incapacity be extended until after Attorney General Menachem Mazuz decides whether to indict the president. The decision is expected to follow a May 2 hearing on the matter.

Katsav had previously planned to make a decision on extending his incapacity only after a separate hearing in the High Court of Justice on Sunday regarding a petition he filed against Mazuz.

One of Katsav's associates said the president and his advisers had been discussing whether to request an extension since they received the evidentiary material from the prosecution.

"If we had received the investigation material before the first request for incapacity, we would have recommended that the president not request incapacity," said one of Katsav's attorneys, Zion Amir.

However, Katsav decided to extend his period of incapacity in part because it would not be feasible to return to active duty before Mazuz reaches a decision that could well push Katsav to resign.

"The original plan was to make a decision only at the last minute," said Katsav attorney Avigdor Feldman. "But the president didn't like the witch hunt that developed around the subject yesterday, and it was decided to make a decision the same day."

But even if Katsav had not decided to extend his period of incapacity, he would still not have been able to participate in the official Independence Day ceremonies Monday and Tuesday. The original period of incapacity lasts until midnight Tuesday, after Independence Day ends.

"Katsav will not appear at the President's Residence on Independence Day," said Feldman.

Meanwhile, although the Knesset House Committee is scheduled to convene today, it is not expected to discuss an extension of the period of incapacity since the committee members must be informed in advance if such a major issue is to be addressed.

Avraham said yesterday that she had not yet received a request from the president to extend the incapacity. Legal experts disagree over whether the House Committee can extend it without Katsav's request.

Katsav is legally allowed to halt the period of incapacity at any time, but Avraham noted that he has said he would resign if Mazuz decides to indict him.