Washington: The United States on Sunday condemned as "deeply offensive" remarks by an influential Israeli rabbi who said he hoped Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas would "vanish from our world”.
"We regret and condemn the inflammatory statements by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a statement.
"These remarks are not only deeply offensive, but incitement such as this hurts the cause of peace."
Ovadia, who heads a religious party in Israel`s ruling coalition, expressed hope in his weekly sermon on Saturday that "all the nasty people who hate Israel, like Abu Mazen (Abbas), vanish from our world."
"May God strike them down with the plague along with all the nasty Palestinians who persecute Israel," he said.
Crowley pointed out that the remarks did not reflect the view of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is due in Washington this week for direct peace talks with Abbas.
The talks will be the first face-to-face discussions since December 2008, when the Palestinians broke off negotiations over a deadly Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat condemned the remarks as "an incitement to genocide”, and urged the Israeli government "to do more about peace and stop spreading hatred”.
Netanyahu`s office dismissed the comments in a statement that said the government wants peace with the Palestinians.
Yosef`s comments "do not reflect the views of Benjamin Netanyahu or of his government" which seeks a peace settlement with the Palestinians, it said.
According to Shas MP Nissim Zeev, whose party has 11 seats in the 120-member parliament, Yosef was trying to express the wish taken from Jewish holy texts that God would eliminate the enemies of Israel to clear the way for peace.
In the past, Shas`s powerful mentor, a Baghdad-born rabbi now in his late 80s, has referred to Arabs and Palestinians as "snakes" and "vipers" who were "swarming like ants”.
He has made similar remarks about non-observant Jews, including former prime minister Ariel Sharon, whom he called "cruel" and "evil" for his plan to evict settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
In the late 1980s, however, Yosef came out in support of a territorial compromise with the Palestinians.