JERUSALEM - Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a key ally of the premier, resigned on Friday after having been charged with breach of trust, barely five weeks ahead of general elections.

“I am not legally bound to submit my resignation... but I have decided to step down from my duties as foreign minister and deputy premier,” the controversial ultra-nationalist leader said in a statement. But Lieberman said he would fight the charges and could return to the political scene in time for the January 22 polls. “I have taken this decision from the conviction that the citizens of Israel will be able to go to the polls after this problem has been resolved,” said the leader of the Yisrael Beitenu party, a member of the ruling coalition.

“That means the judiciary must give its verdict before the elections,” said Lieberman, who has long proclaimed his innocence of all charges.

“I will then be able to serve the citizens of Israel and form part of the next strong and unified leadership to face up to the security, political and economic challenges with which Israel is confronted.” On Thursday, after he was charged with fraud and breach of trust, Lieberman said he would confer with his lawyers before deciding if he should resign. Israel’s attorney general charged him but dropped more serious allegations against Lieberman, whose party is running in alliance with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. Thursday’s decision closes an episode that included explosive allegations of fraud, money-laundering and witness tampering.

While the closing of the main case against him was something of a victory for Lieberman, analysts had said the ultimate decision on whether he resigned might be forced by Netanyahu.

The alliance had been expected to win at least 38 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, far ahead of the opposition.

Netanyahu congratulated Lieberman after the attorney general’s announcement. “I hope that he proves his innocence on the one remaining matter,” he said in a statement. HaTnua, the party led by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, called for the resignation. “HaTnua calls on the prime minister to act according to the legal norms observed in Israel under which ministers who have been indicted immediately resign from the government,” it said.

The Labour party warned of “the danger to Israeli democracy if Lieberman does not resign.”

Lieberman has faced several investigations since 1996 on a number of fraud and corruption allegations but has never been charged.

A Soviet-born former bouncer, he has courted controversy with his hardline stance on Israel’s Arab minority, with critics accusing him of racism.

In 2001, he pleaded guilty to assaulting a Palestinian youth who had hit his son and has had regular verbal spars with Arab members of parliament.

Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a US life sentence for spying for Israel, said he primarily sought information about Arab nations and not the United States, declassified CIA documents said Friday.

Newly released documents offered a fuller picture of the former US naval analyst, highlighting his financial problems and eccentric behaviour including a claim at one point that the Irish Republican Army kidnapped his wife.

Pollard, who was arrested in 1985 as he tried to flee to the Israeli embassy in Washington, told investigators he had been asked foremost for US information on Arab or Pakistani nuclear programs and “Arab exotic weaponry,” a former top secret CIA document said.

It said that Pollard provided data on the Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in Tunisia that helped Israel plan its 1985 raid and also handed over a US assessment that gave Syria less of a chance of retaking the Golan Heights in a conflict with Israel.

But the document quoted Pollard as saying that a handler “violently shook his head ‘no’” at a superior’s request for CIA “dirt” on Israeli leaders.

Pollard said that Israel “did not request or receive from Pollard intelligence concerning some of the most sensitive US national security resources,” it said.

“The Israelis never expressed interest in US military activities, plans, capabilities or equipment,” it said.

The documents were published by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, which contested an earlier refusal by the CIA to release the material. However, the CIA still heavily redacted the documents.

The CIA based its information on debriefings of Pollard but said it corroborated his statements through polygraph tests.

A memo said that Pollard gave his Israeli handlers more than they initially sought and said, without elaboration, that the documents included those “on military developments in Israel itself.”

Israel awarded Pollard citizenship in 1995 and has repeatedly urged his release, arguing that the sentence was too harsh as he was spying on behalf of a friendly nation.

Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington, said in June that the United States refused to free Pollard out of suspicions that the Jewish state concealed the existence of other spies.