Scandal-Roiled Olmert to Resign

Roiled by corruption scandals, war-time failings and single-digit popularity ratings during his turbulent time in office, Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert announced on Wednesday, July 30, he would resign in September.

"I will quit my duties in an honorable, just and responsible manner, as I have acted throughout my mandate," Olmert said in a televised announcement from his official residence.

He confirmed he would not run for the leadership of his ruling Kadima party in a primary which the Israeli media said would be held on September 17.

"After the election of my successor I will step down to allow a government to be formed rapidly," added Olmert.

"I have made mistakes and I regret it."

Olmert, 62, has faced a chorus of calls for his resignation over corruption accusations.

The announcement marks the apex of a political storm unleashed when police launched a probe in May over suspicions Olmert had accepted money from a Jewish-American financier to fund elections campaigns and a lavish lifestyle in the 13 years before he became premier in 2006.

Olmert, who took over Israel’s most powerful political post from his mentor Ariel Sharon, is currently facing a total of six corruption probes.

He faced resignation demands in 2006 after Israel’s 34-day onslaught on neighboring Lebanon failed to defeat Hizbullah and retrieve two soldiers taken prisoner by the Lebanese resistance.

Mideast Peace

A senior Israeli official said Olmert spoke to his friend and key ally US President George W. Bush before making his decision public.

"We are going to look forward to working with all responsible Israeli leaders in the government, whether it is this government or future governments," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

The stunning announcement casts a long shadow on peacemaking efforts with the Palestinians and with Syria, re-launched in May under Turkish mediation after an eight-year freeze.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Olmert’s resignation is an "internal Israeli matter."

"What matters to the Palestinian Authority is that there is an Israeli head of state that adheres to the peace process," Nabil Abu Rudeina told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

He added that the Palestinians would continue to work with Israel regardless of who succeeds Olmert.

Olmert and Abbas have been meeting regularly since US President George W. Bush hosted an international conference in November that formally re-launched the Middle East peace process after a seven-year hiatus.

The three leaders pledged at the time to try to secure a full peace deal by the end of the year but the talks have so far made little tangible progress.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads Israel’s negotiating team, is considered a front-runner to replace Olmert in their Kadima party primary.

But Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter are also expected to compete.

( and news agencies)

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