JERUSALEM, Aug 29 (Reuters) - An influential Israeli rabbi has said God should strike the Palestinians and their leader with a plague, calling for their death in a fiery sermon before Middle East peace talks set to begin next week.Abu Mazen
and all these evil people should perish from this earth, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual head of the religious Shas party
's government, said in a sermon late on Saturday, calling Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by his popular name.
God should strike them and these Palestinians -- evil haters of Israel -- with a plague, the 89-year-old rabbi said in his weekly address to the faithful, excerpts of which were broadcast on Israeli radio on Sunday.
The Iraqi-born cleric has made similar remarks before, most notably in 2001, during a Palestinian uprising, when he called for Arabs' annihilation and said it was forbidden to be merciful to them.
He later said he was referring only to terrorists who attacked Israelis. In the 1990s, Yosef broke with other Orthodox Jewish leaders by voicing support for territorial compromise with the Palestinians.
Yosef's latest comments drew no immediate response from Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netananyu
and Abbas are due to resume direct peace talks in Washington on Thursday, the first such negotiations in 20 months in a peace process
that includes commitments by both sides to avoid incitement. (Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Angus MacSwan)