Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef denounced upcoming peace talks with the Palestinians, which are set to start September 2 in Washington, and called for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to "perish from this world," Army Radio reported overnight Saturday.

"Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world," Rabbi Ovadia was quoted as saying during his weekly sermon at a synagogue near his Jerusalem home. "God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians."

The Shas spiritual leader also called the Palestinians "evil, bitter enemies of Israel" during his speech, which is not the rabbi's first sermon to spark controversy.

In 2001, the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox faction gave a speech in which he also called for Arabs' annihilation.

"It is forbidden to be merciful to them," he was quoted as saying. "You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable."

The Palestinian Authority had condemned the speech as racist and inciteful.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, also from Shas, earlier this week also remarked on the forthcoming peace talks with the Palestinians, saying that Shas would oppose extending the West Bank settlement building freeze due to expire in late September.

Yishai has suggested that Israel would continue construction in the main settlement blocs likely to remain part of Israel in the framework of a peace deal, but freeze construction in outposts or more remote settlements.