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A Palestinian couple speaks with each other during their wedding ceremony at a United Nations-run school sheltering displaced people in Shati refugee camp in Gaza City Mohammed Salem/Reuters

Gaza's most eminent spiritual guide has given an extraordinary interview on a TV show produced by the Palestinian Authority (PA), in which he explains that wife-beating can help bring couples together, so long as the wife "is not made ugly or her bones broken" as a result of the beating. Hassan Al-Laham, who is the Mufti of Gaza, made the comments in an interview broadcast on PA TV, which is broadcast across the Arab world.

"Allah created a solution for this...warn them [the wives], and separate from them, and hit them, and bring an arbitrator from his family and an arbitrator from her family," Al-Laham told his female interviewer. "After this comes divorce. The husband starts with a warning." Asked what sort of warning, he continued: "The warning needs to be made politely by the husband to his wife, while he shows good relations, dialogue, respect and humanity. The warning should be made using a good word, good treatment and a positive look."

If a wife should fail to observe the warning, however, Al-Laham said there was only one solution. Warming to his theme he elaborated: "The Prophet said: 'Do not hit the face and do not make her ugly'. In other words, not hitting that will bring the police and break her hand and cause bleeding, or hitting that makes the face ugly. No....The hitting is not meant to disfigure, harm, or degrade. The hitting will be like a joke. He will hit her jokingly."

The interview was translated by the Israel-based Palestinian Media Watch. Director Itamar Marcus told Fox News that the fact the interview was aired on a channel run by the PA, rather than the supposedly more extremist Hamas, was deeply worrying. "They actually think this is a moderate message – that it is okay to beat your wife," said Marcus. "This is their perception."