RAMALLAH, Palestine: The mass killing of Jews in the Holocaust was “the most heinous crime” against humanity of the modern era, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday in his strongest remarks yet on the Nazi genocide.
The statement comes at a sensitive time for U.S.-led peace efforts, with Israel having suspended faltering talks last week after Abbas reached an agreement with the Islamist Hamas movement to form a unity government.
In a statement in English released just hours before Israel began marking Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Palestinian leader expressed sympathy with families of the six million Jews who were killed by the Nazi regime.
“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”.
His remarks, made in response to a question during talks last week with an American rabbi promoting Jewish-Muslim understanding, came as Israel and the Palestinians fought a bitter war of words 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.
Israel will at sundown begin marking Holocaust Memorial Day, holding special events and two minutes’ silence to remember the victims of the Nazi genocide.
– Attitude come under scrutiny –
Although the Palestinian leader has condemned the Holocaust in the past, his attitude has come in for heavy scrutiny since the 1980s when in his doctoral thesis he questioned the total number of Jews killed.
“No one can confirm or deny the figure peddled about by the rumor that six million Jews were among the victims,” he wrote, suggesting the number “may number six million or be far fewer, even fewer than one million”.
But he added: “The controversy over the figure cannot minimize 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.
Officials from the Islamist Hamas organization, which is pledged to Israel’s destruction, have either denied the Nazi genocide outright or cast doubt on its scope.
In January, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz denounced Abbas as the most anti-Semitic leader in the world.
“As someone who denied the Holocaust in his youth, he today denies the very existence of the Jewish people and their right to their own state,” he said, referring to Abbas’s refusal to recognize Israel as the Jewish state, a key stumbling block in the peace talks.
In his statement, Abbas said the Holocaust was “a reflection of the concept of ethnic discrimination and racism which the Palestinians strongly reject and act against.”
“The world must do its utmost to fight racism and injustice in order to bring justice and equality to oppressed people wherever they are.”
“The Palestinian people, who suffer from injustice, oppression and denied freedom and peace, are the first to demand to lift the injustice and racism that befell other peoples subjected to such crimes,” he said.