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Israel political kingmaker rabbi Yosef 'seriously ill'

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A file picture dated December 11, 2011 shows rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Israeli ultra-Orthodox Shas party, during a meeting in Jerusalem.AFP/File

The spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which holds 11 seats in the 120-member Israeli parliament, was seriously ill in hospital on Monday, one of his doctors said.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, 93, was on a respirator after undergoing heart surgery in Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital, cardiologist Dan Gilon told Israeli television.

"His condition is serious but not irreversible," Gilon said.

Yosef, whose son Yitzhak was elected chief rabbi of Israel's Sephardic Jews in June, a post he himself had previously held, has been in and out of hospital for several months.

He wields enormous influence among Israeli Jews of Middle Eastern and North African ancestry, and has frequently been a kingmaker in the country's fickle coalition politics.

Shas was a member of successive governing coalitions before going into opposition after the last general election in January.

The party strongly opposed the demands of the secular rightwing coalition partners of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for more sweeping conscription of the ultra-Orthodox, who have long enjoyed extensive exemptions from military service.