Three weeks after making hostile statements about the Palestinians, Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is sending out a conciliatory message and is returning to his old positions in support of the peace process.

Yosef expressed support for the direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and wished "longevity" to the Arab leaders who are partners in the process.

"My position has been known and clear for decades, on the importance of achieving peace while preserving the security of the nation of Israel," the rabbi wrote in a letter to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

"We wish for sustainable peace with all our neighbors and we are very thankful to the honorable president for his direct involvement in the peace process in our region, which undoubtedly contributes and strengthens this important process," the letter continued.

Yosef wrote the letter to Mubarak, which was then sent from the bureau of President Shimon Peres to Cairo, translated into Arabic.

Yosef addressed Mubarak as "our esteemed and dear friend."

Peres offered the rabbi assistance in the initiative in an effort to improve the atmosphere created by statements made by the rabbi during a sermon three weeks ago.

"Let our enemies and those who hate us die," Yosef said then. "[PA President
Abbas] and all these evil people should perish from this world. God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians."

The statements were strongly condemned in Egypt and around the world.

Sources in the rabbi's home told Haaretz that since the statements were made, the rabbi "was very sorry" and looked for a way of sending a conciliatory message to the Palestinians.

"I support your efforts and praise all the leaders and the peoples ¬- Egyptians, Jordanians and Palestinians -¬ who are partners and wish the success of this important process of achieving peace in our region, and preventing bloodshed. May God grant you longevity and may you succeed in your efforts for peace and may there be peace in our region," Yosef wrote.