Netanyahu: I don't share Rabbi Yosef's views

Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu

The Israeli Prime Minister has distanced himself from inflammatory remarks about Mahmoud Abbas made by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

The spiritual leader of the religious party Shas said in an address on Saturday that the Palestinian leader should "vanish from our world" and labelled the Palestinians as evil and bitter enemies.

The 89-year-old, who is a former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, also said that God should strike the Palestinians “with a plague”.

Shas is one of the parties in Israel’s ruling coalition, but Benajmin Netanyahu said Rabbi Yosef’s views did not reflect his own or those of the government.

He added: "Israel plans to take part in peace negotiations out of a desire to advance toward a peace agreement with the Palestinians that will end the conflict and ensure peace, security and good neighbourly relations between the two peoples.”

Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians are due to begin in Washington on September 2.

A spokesman from the United States state department also criticised the comments and called them "deeply offensive".

He said: “As we move forward to relaunch peace negotiations, it is important that actions by people on all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it."

The Zionist Federation also said they deplored the "offensive" remarks.

They added: “We support direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and the position of the Israeli Government as formulated by the prime mnister’s ofice."

Rabbi Yosef is no stranger to controversy. In 2005, he said that that Hurricane Katrina was “God’s retribution” for George Bush’s support of the Gaza disengagement.

Last updated: 1:46pm, August 31 2010