9 Mar 2009

Pope to visit Middle East

4:03 pm on 9 March 2009

Pope Benedict has announced that he will visit the Middle East in May in a trip that will include a stop at Jerusalem's memorial to Holocaust victims.

His stop in Israel will be particularly significant because of the continuing controversy over his decision to lift the excommunication of a bishop who denies the extent of the Holocaust.

In his first trip as pope to the region, he will visit Jordan, Jerusalem and Nazareth in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

His trip there will be the first by a pope since Pope John Paul visited in 2000.

Catholic-Jewish relations have been tense after Pope Benedict lifted the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, who said no more than 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, rather than the six million figure widely accepted.

Katsav to face sex offence charges

Former Israeli president Moshe Katsav is to be charged with sex offences, including the rape of a former female employee.

Mr Katsav last year called off a plea bargain that would have resulted in a guilty plea to sexual misconduct but would have avoided more serious charges.

A spokesman for Mr Katsav, who quit his post in 2007, says he now welcomes the chance to prove his innocence in court.

The charges relate to accusations by female staff members while Mr Katsav was tourism minister and president.

The Justice Ministry says the decision to charge Mr Katsav "was made after the prosecutors concluded the complainants' testimony was reliable".