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Influential Israeli Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in hospital

By The Associated Press

This article was published January 12, 2013 at 10:00 a.m.

— The spiritual leader of an Israeli ultra-orthodox political party was hospitalized in Jerusalem on Saturday, a development that could shake his party's fortunes and mute one of Israel's most influential voices.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, 92, is conscious and in a stable condition, Hadassah hospital spokeswoman Etti Dvir said, adding that doctors had requested he remain in the facility for several days for observation and further checks. She did not provide further details on his condition.

The enigmatic, Baghdad-born Yosef is the chief spiritual adviser of the Shas party, which represents Israeli Jews of Middle Eastern descent. His followers consider his decisions as binding religious law — rare discipline in Israel's otherwise fragmented political landscape.

But Yosef's influence reaches beyond the party, which holds 10 seats in the 120-seat Israeli parliament.

Comments from Yosef, with his trademark turban, gold-embroidered robes and dark glasses, have cast a pall over political debates ranging from whether ultra-Orthodox Jews should be conscripted into Israel's military, to war and peace with Palestinians.

He is known for his fierce statements that have offended widely disparate segments of society, including Holocaust survivors, gays, Palestinians and secular Jews.

The rabbi said during a sermon in August 2010 that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas should "perish from the world" and described Palestinians as "evil, bitter enemies of Israel." He later apologized for the remarks.

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