The U.S. State Department on Sunday issued a statement criticizing an Israeli rabbi who reportedly wished God would send a plague to kill off all Palestinians, including the "evil hater of Israel," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
"We regret and condemn the inflammatory statements by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said, noting that the rabbi's comments do not reflect the views of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"These remarks are not only deeply offensive, but incitement such as this hurts the cause of peace. As we move forward to re-launch peace negotiations, it is important that actions by people on all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it," Crowley said.
The inflammatory statements by the rabbi, reportedly delivered during Saturday prayer service, come just days before Abbas and Netanyahu are scheduled to arrive in Washington for direct peace talks stalled for the past two years.
Yosef is said to have prayed about the Palestinians that "the Lord strike them down."
Yosef, the foremer Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel, is the spiritual leader of the right-wing Shas political party in Israel, which is part of Netanyahu's coalition government.