JERUSALEM — Two Israeli Cabinet ministers said Thursday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would have to resign if a bribery investigation eventually led to his indictment.
Sharon continued to dismiss any such possibility, declaring that he would serve "at least until 2007," when elections are scheduled.
As the conflict with the Palestinians abruptly slipped to the sidelines of Israeli political debate, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a 12-year-old Palestinian boy playing near the boundary fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel, his family and hospital officials said.
The Israeli army said it could not confirm the killing. It said that soldiers had opened fire on a group of people seen approaching Gaza's fence with a ladder and that they had wounded two. Israeli paramedics treated the casualties on the spot and then took them to an Israeli hospital, the army said. The youths were unarmed.
On Wednesday, an Israeli court indicted a real estate developer on charges of paying roughly $700,000 to Sharon's son, Gilad, in the hope of bribing Sharon. The indictment said the developer, David Appel, told Ariel Sharon that Gilad was expected to make a lot of money, but it did not lay out evidence that Sharon knowingly took a bribe.
Justice officials are looking into whether there is sufficient cause to indict the Sharons, and it is likely to be weeks or even months before they reach a decision.
Public opinion polling suggests that Sharon's personal credibility is shaky. Yet the suspicions of bribery did not come as news to the Israeli public. For months the Israeli news media have carried reports of the investigation into whether Appel, beginning in the late 1990s when Sharon was foreign minister, had sought to buy Sharon's help in an unsuccessful plan to build a casino and resort on a Greek island.
For proposed payments totaling $3 million, Appel hired Gilad Sharon to promote the plan, though, in the indictment's words, he "did not have the relevant professional skills."
Limor Livnat, the minister of education, told Israel radio Thursday evening that Sharon "will have to resign" if indicted. "If an indictment will be served — I hope it will not happen — but if an indictment will be served against the prime minister, there is no doubt that he will not be able to continue holding on to his position," Livnat said.
Earlier, Avraham Poraz, the minister of interior and a leader of the Shinui faction, which promotes itself in part as pursuing clean government, also said that an indictment would force Sharon to resign.