Shimon Peres to Take Oath of Office as Ninth President of Israel Tonight

The inauguration ceremony for president-elect Shimon Peres will take place at 6 P.M. today. After he swears allegiance, Peres will begin serving as Israel's ninth president.

Pope Benedict XVI sent Peres a congratulatory message yesterday, urging him to work for peace in the region.

On the domestic front, one of the first decisions facing Peres is whether to pardon former deputy minister Naomi Blumenthal. Blumenthal was convicted of graft during a 2002 Likud primary campaign and given an eight-month prison sentence.

Peres was elected a month ago, after besting MKs Reuven Rivlin (Likud) and Colette Avital (Labor). Moshe Katsav resigned from the presidency two weeks ago, and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik has been serving as acting president in the interim.

The car carrying the president-elect will arrive at the Knesset accompanied by the customary six motorcyclists and six horsemen. Peres will review an honor guard of 72 representatives of the Israel Defense Forces and the Knesset Guard. Afterward, he will lay a wreath at the monument to fallen Israeli soldiers, located at the Knesset entrance.

The swearing-in ceremony is scheduled for 6:30 P.M., and will open and close with a triple fanfare. Peres will swear allegiance and sign his declaration, after which the shofar will be blown, the Knesset speaker will call out, "Long live the president of the State of Israel," and the assembled MKs and audience will reply, "Long live, long live, long live."

This will be followed by speeches from Itzik and Peres. At 7:30 P.M. there will be an official reception line for the 950 invited guests. The Knesset presidium decided to forgo a party with refreshments, since the event falls in the period known in religious circles as bein hazamanim, during which it is customary not to hold festive meals except for religious occasions.

Peres' invitee list strives to reflect the various currents in Israeli society and history. Among those invited are Rachel Rabin, Yitzhak Rabin's sister; Al Schwimmer, a founder of Israel Aircraft Industries; Sorin Hershko, an IDF casualty of Operation Entebbe; Smadar Haran, who lost her family in the 1979 terrorist attack in Nahariya; Rona Ramon, widow of astronaut Ilan Ramon; Haim Sidovsky, an advocate for the release of Jewish Underground prisoners; Avishai Bar Yehuda, who heads a group of settlers evacuated from the Gaza Strip; Migdal Ha'emek's rabbi, Yitzhak David Grossman; Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish, founder of the Islamic Movement; authors Meir Shalev and Eli Amir; actress Gila Almagor and others. Among the official dignitaries invited are Supreme Court justices, former presidents and Knesset speakers, and ambassadors.

Peres' ailing wife, Sonia, will most likely not attend the inauguration, nor will she be moving into the President's Residence at this time.