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Tributes paid to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, founder of Israel's Shas party and leader of Sephardic Jews

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Tributes paid to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, founder of Israel's Shas party and leader of Sephardic Jews

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More than half a million mourners have attended the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef who has died at the age of 93.

He was seen as the spiritual leader of Israel’s Sephardic Jews and founded the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

His coffin was flanked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

Netanyahu paid tribute to Yosef, saying: “He worked greatly to enhance Jewish heritage and, at the same time, his rulings took into consideration the times and the realities of renewed life in the state of Israel.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked for his condolences to be passed on, saying: “We met on several occasions, we had prolonged discussions, please send our condolences to his family.”

However Rabbi Yosef was a controversial figure, dubbed “Israel’s Ayatollah” by critics who condemned many of his comments as racist and homophobic. He likened Palestinians to snakes and described them as “evil” and said God put gentiles on earth only to serve Jews.

Born in Iraq, Yosef came to Jerusalem when he was four and was ordained as a rabbi at the age of 20. He will be remembered for helping improve the situation of Sephardic Jews, from North Africa and Arab nations, within Israel.