The mass killing of Jews during the Holocaust was "the most heinous crime" against humanity in the modern era, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday, his strongest remarks yet on the Nazi genocide of World War II.
"What happened to the Jews in the Holocaust is the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era," Abbas said.
He also expressed his "sympathy with the families of the victims and many other innocent people who were killed by the Nazis".
In a statement, in English and Arabic, was released just hours before Israel began marking Holocaust remembrance day.
The statement came at a sensitive time for US-led peace efforts, with Israel having suspended talks last week after Abbas reached an agreement with the Islamist militant group Hamas to form a unity government.
But Abbas seems to be on something of a charm offensive in the wake of the agreement, saying over the weekend that the new Palestinian unity government would recognise Israel – although not as a "Jewish state" – and saying it would renounce "violence and terrorism".
“The upcoming government will obey my policy,” Abbas said Saturday. “I recognise Israel and reject violence and terrorism, and recognise international commitments.”
His remarks on the Holocaust, made in response to a question during talks last week with an American rabbi promoting Jewish-Muslim understanding, came as Israel and the Palestinians traded blame over the collapse of the peace talks.
"On the incredibly sad commemoration of Holocaust Day, we call on the Israeli government to seize the current opportunity to conclude a just and comprehensive peace in the region, based on the two-states vision, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security," Abbas said.
Although the Palestinian leader has condemned the Holocaust in the past, his stance has come under heavy scrutiny since the early 1980s, when his doctoral thesis questioned the number of Jews that were killed.
"No one can confirm or deny the figure peddled about by the rumour that six million Jews were among the victims," he then wrote, suggesting the number "may number six million or be far fewer, even fewer than one million".
However, he added: "The controversy over the figure cannot minimise in any way the atrocious crime committed against the Jews."
In 2011, he reportedly said that he now accepts the figure of six million Jewish victims.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed Abbas's comments on the Holocaust as a public relations move aimed at the US audience.
"I think it's an overture to American public opinion, to world public opinion, to try to placate and somehow smooth over the fact that he made a terrible step away from peace," Netanyahu said in an interview on "Face the Nation", a news show that airs on US channel CBS.
Netanyahu said he was "shocked" when the Palestinian leader announced the pact with Hamas, whose officials have either denied the Nazi genocide outright or cast doubt on its scope.
"He made a giant leap backwards, away from peace, because he embraced Hamas, [which] calls for the extermination of Jews worldwide," Netanyahu said.
"Either Hamas disavows the destruction of Israel and embraces peace and denounces terror or president Abbas renounces Hamas," Netanyahu said, speaking on CNN's "State of the Union" programme.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians, told reporters it was crucial to wait and see what sort of government emerged from the unity deal.
"The reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas was quite a disappointment ... but we decided to wait and see what happens on the Palestinian side when a new government is created," she said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-04-28