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Israel's Katsav Jailed For Seven Years

Former President Moshe Katsav outside a Tel Aviv court after he was convicted in December
Israel's former president, Moshe Katsav, has been sentenced to seven years in jail for rape, making him the highest-ranking Israeli official ever handed a prison term.

On hearing the sentence, Katsav broke down in tears, shouting at the judges that the verdict marked the "victory" of lies.

Katsav's lawyer, Zion Amir, said the sentence came as no surprise.

"I think this is a sad day, a day of mourning, for Israeli society, because of the punishment imposed today," Amir told reporters today outside the court in Tel Aviv. "The punishment did not surprise me in light of the harsh verdict."

In December, a court found Katsav guilty of twice raping a woman who worked for him in 1998 when he served as tourism minister and of sexually harassing two other employees during his term as president between 2000 and 2007.

Katsav was also convicted of indecent acts and obstruction of justice for trying to make contact with one complainant about her testimony.

'Day Of Pride And Shame'

The 65-year-old politician, who was forced to resign early over the scandal, has denied all accusations and complained of a political witch-hunt. The Katsav affair precipitated the fall of Israel's then-prime minister, Ehud Olmert, amid corruption scandals.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Katsav's conviction inspired both shame and pride:

"This is a special day in the state of Israel, a day of sadness and shame, but also of deep appreciation and pride in the Israeli justice system," Netanyahu said.

"The court ruled decisively on a simple principle: That principle is equality before the law. Nobody stands above the law."

Today's ruling marks the culmination of a high-profile case that has riveted the country for five years. It also seals the disgrace of a man previously admired for rising from humble beginnings as an Iranian-born child migrant.

Katsav became the country's youngest mayor at the age of 24 and held a number of cabinet posts as a member of the conservative Likud party. He was the first Jew born in the Middle East to be elected president of Israel, where the elite is traditionally of European descent.

Message To Women

Women's rights groups have welcomed the verdict as a victory in their fight against what they denounce as Israel's macho culture.

"As far as we are concerned, it's a message that is very important to all the victims of such an assault, that there is a legal system that can defend them, that can protect them, that there is somebody here to stand up for them," says Miriam Schler, the director of the Tel Aviv Rape Crisis Center.

"Even if we are talking about somebody in a position of great power, like the president of Israel."

The court has ordered Katsav to report to prison on May 8, which would give him enough time to appeal the sentence. Katsav must also pay fines of about $25,000 and $7,000 to two of his victims.

compiled from agency reports