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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 January, 2004, 12:10 GMT
Israeli press challenges Sharon
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon is under attack from the press

Papers across Israel's political spectrum are questioning the credibility of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a day after prosecutors said they were considering charging him over a corruption case.

Businessman David Appel was indicted for offering millions of dollars in bribes to Mr Sharon, his deputy and one of Mr Sharon's sons in the late 1990s when Mr Sharon was foreign minister.

While some papers are sceptical over Mr Sharon's ability to continue as prime minister, almost all call on him to tell the Israeli public all he knows about the affair.

Business not as usual

"The charge sheet presented against David Appel," the centrist Yediot Aharonot warns, "is the public prosecution's ranging shell fired towards Prime Minister Ariel Sharon."

There is no giving without taking

"The prime minister and his aides will try to pretend that it's business as usual, but there is no reason to believe them," it adds.

"The shells are falling closer," the daily states.

The right-leaning Hatzofe takes a similar view, saying: "The charge sheet against David Appel is in fact a grave charge sheet against Ariel Sharon."

"For accusing Appel of bribing the prime minister means that the prime minister received a bribe. There is no giving without taking," it says.

Can he continue?

The paper also questions Mr Sharon's ability to perform his duties as usual.

"Presenting charges against David Appel while including the name of the prime minister hurts the prime minister's ability to function."

He no longer has the right to remain silent vis-a-vis the public

The left-leaning Ha'aretz makes the same point more strongly.

"Can the prime minister conduct the affairs of state with the sword of the law over his neck?"

"How credible will be," the paper wonders, "any political, security or economic decisions he takes, when they might be driven by extraneous factors?"

"From that perspective, the country's leaders have the right to demand that Sharon and [Deputy Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert account for themselves," it concludes.

'Explain yourself'

Other papers also argue that Mr Sharon must now defend himself publicly.

"He no longer has the right to remain silent vis-a-vis the public," Ma'ariv declares.

"Perhaps Sharon will not be indicted personally," Yediot Aharonot reasons, "but the details that will pour out from the investigations, testimonies and charge sheets will put him in a tight corner."

You must come clean

"If he did not know what was happening in his sitting room," the paper asks, "how can it be possible to rely on his judgement?"

"What else did the prime minister - on whose shoulders rest perhaps the hardest decisions in the history of the Jewish people - not know, see or hear?"

Hatzofe also demands an explanation. "In these days of security, economic and social tension, a clear word must be said on whether the prime minister can continue to serve."

Addressing the prime minister, it says: "You must come clean."

"Let him speak, explain, convince us that he is capable of continuing to function under pressure," Ma'ariv says.

"He is not the tea-boy at the prime minister's office; he is the man who controls our lives and fates."

"Speak to us Sharon, or go home," it concludes

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

The BBC's David Chazan
"The prime minister and Mr Appel both deny any wrongdoing"

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