31 Aug 2010

Address by rabbi seen as inflammatory

12:55 pm on 31 August 2010

The United States has described as inflammatory remarks by an ultra-orthodox rabbi in Israel, who called for Palestinians to be struck by a plague.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is the spiritual leader of the Shas party, one of the members of Israel's governing coalition.

The BBC reports he is a powerful and influential figure.

Washington said his remarks were an impediment to peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which are due to begin on Thursday.

In a weekly sermon on Saturday, Rabbi Yosef called for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to "vanish from our world".

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself from the comments with a statement saying that his government wanted peace with the Palestinians.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat condemned the remarks as "an incitement to genocide".

Rabbi Yosef, 80, expressed the wish that "all the nasty people who hate Israel, like Abu Mazen (Abbas), vanish from our world".

He went on to say: "May God strike them down with the plague along with all the nasty Palestinians who persecute Israel."

Mr Netanyahu is due in Washington this week for direct peace talks with Mr Abbas.