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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 March, 2005, 17:06 GMT
Rabbi says God will punish Sharon
Shas party spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
Rabbi Yosef's colleagues said he meant Mr Sharon no harm
One of Israel's senior rabbis has caused outrage by apparently calling on God to "strike down" Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in a sermon.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual mentor of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, invoked the curse over Mr Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

"Let God strike him down... he is torturing the people of Israel," Mr Yosef is reported as saying.

Mr Sharon has been courting Shas in an attempt to pass his disengagement plan.

The party's 11 votes could be crucial when the proposals are put before parliament.

But Mr Yosef has rejected the idea of putting the plan to Israelis in a referendum.

"The Holy One wants us all to return to the Torah, and then he will strike him with one blow and he will die. He will sleep and never wake up," he was reported as saying in an apparent reference to Mr Sharon.

A colleague insisted the rabbi was objecting to the disengagement, and had no intention that the prime minister should be harmed.

But several legislators have demanded he be investigated for incitement.

"He hates Israel, hates the Arabs, incites and calls on heaven to strike down the prime minister, it is unbelievable," said Ronny Brizon, an MP from the secular Shinui Party.

However, the attorney general has reportedly decided not to launch an investigation against Mr Yosef because he was expressing "hope" rather than a call for action.

"There is no clear, operative instruction to his listeners, and thus there is apparently no grounds for an investigation," a senior justice ministry official is quoted as saying.

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