Anger spreads at rabbi's death wish for Palestinians

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Salam Fayyad yesterday joined the widespread outrage at Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the ultra-orthodox Israeli party Shas, who at the weekend denounced the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and others, suggesting they should "perish".

The rabbi, an 89-year-old Talmudic scholar who acts as mentor to the main religious party of Sephardic Jews – or those orginating in Arab countries – was quoted as saying: "Abu Mazen [Mr Abbas] and all these evil people should perish from this earth. God should strike them and these Palestinians, evil haters of Israel, with a plague."

Although some Shas Knesset members claimed that the rabbi had been "misunderstood" and supported "peace" there was no official response from Shas. The Prime Minister's office said later on Sunday that the rabbi's words did not reflect "the position of the government of Israel".

Mr Fayyad, the Palestinian Prime Minister, said yesterday: "It does not bode well and we deplore it. Statements like that are partly to blame for actions by extremists, like attacks on our citizens by settlers." He added that he found it "troubling" that Mr Netanyahu had not disavowed the "incitement" in more robust terms.

At the weekend, the US State Department strongly condemned the rabbi's statement as "not only deeply offensive, but incitement such as this hurts the cause of peace". Spokesman PJ Crowley said: "We regret and condemn the inflammatory statements by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. We note the Israeli statement that the rabbi's comments do not reflect the views of the Prime Minister."