August 30, 2010
Posted: 652 GMT
Shocking words have come from the spiritual leader of Israel's ultra-orthodox political party, Shas. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef denounced the upcoming direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians in Washington this week and was quoted by Israel Army Radio as saying of the Palestinian President, "Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world... God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians."
Instant condemnation of his weekly sermon came from the Palestinian government. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called it incitement, saying in a statement: "The spirtual leader of Shas is literally calling for a genocide against Palestinians," adding that, "He is particularly calling for the assassination of President Abbas (Abu Mazen) who within a few days will be sitting face to face with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Is this how the Israeli government prepares its public for a peace agreement?"
The Shas party is part of Netanyahu's coalition and has issued no official statement. Netanyahu's office issued this statement: "These things do not reflect PM Netanyahu's approach nor that of the Israeli government. Israel comes to the negotiations with a will to advance towards an agreement that would put an end to the conflict and guarantee peace, security and good neighboring relations between the two nations."
In his weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said he is aware of the difficulties of the upcoming direct talks, but the Israeli side is willing to advance towards peace.
Ahmed Tibi, an Arab Israeli and deputy speaker of the Israeli parliament says: "The Rabbi... has long been the leader of the unjust and evil, he speaks from hatred and calls for murder and death and this is a far cry from the values held by all heavenly religions."
This is not the first time the Shas spiritual leader has caused controversy with his sermons. Israeli media says in 2001 he called the Palestinians "evil and damnable" adding: "You must send missiles to them and annihilate them."
There's been widespread condemnation of the comments across the Arab media - coming just three days before the Israeli and Palestinian leaders meet to talk peace.
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