BEIRUT

Middle East

Israel's ultra-Orthodox Shas chief in hospital: reports

In this Feb. 10, 2009 file photo, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, center, Jewish spiritual leader of Israel's Shas party, blesses a man after casting his ballot at a polling station in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer, File)

JERUSALEM: Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, 92, the spiritual leader of Israel's ultra-Orthodox Shas party, was taken to hospital early on Saturday after falling ill, media reports said.

The all-powerful Yosef, who heads the Council of Torah Sages, the Shas party's supreme body, was taken to Jerusalem's Hadassah Ein-Kerem hospital for a series of tests likely to last several days, the reports cited medics as saying.

Media reports say he has suffered from heart problems for several years.

The hospital spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

The influence of the former Grand Rabbi of Israel is not limited to the world of Sephardic Jewry.

Political leaders are always keen to secure Rabbi Yosef's backing because of the pivotal role the Shas party can play in forming any coalition government: to ignore Shas is to alienate around half a million voters.

Shas currently has 11 members in the 120-seat Knesset or parliament, and the latest polls predict that it will win between 10 and 12 seats in the snap general election called for January 22.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reported to have sent one of his closest aides last August to win Rabbi Yosef's backing for any Israeli military attack on Iran.

Israel -- the Middle East's sole if unacknowledged state to have the atomic bomb -- and Western powers suspect the Islamic republic of carrying out a covert nuclear weapons programme, a charge Tehran vehemently denies.

 

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