Israeli top court blocks new minister

Israel's Supreme Court has ordered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to remove a senior minister over a past criminal conviction in a setback for the new coalition government.

The 10-to-one ruling on Shas party leader Aryeh Deri looks likely to further stoke tensions between the cabinet and Israel's Supreme Court over government reform plans which aim to rein in the top court.

"Most of the judges have determined that this appointment is extremely unreasonable and thus the prime minister must remove him from office," a court summary of the ruling said.

There was no immediate response from Netanyahu, who returned to office in December at the head of a nationalist and religious government.

Deri's ultra-Orthodox Shas Party condemned the ruling.

Deri, who holds the interior and health portfolios and is due to become finance minister under a rotation deal, confessed to tax fraud last year in a plea deal that spared him jail time.

Political watchdogs had appealed to the Supreme Court to order Netanyahu to strike down the appointment, deeming it unreasonable.

The government's reform plans would increase government control over judicial appointments while limiting the Supreme Court's power to strike down legislation or rule against government actions.

They also include the removal of "reasonableness" as a court standard of review.