RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday called the Holocaust "the most heinous crime" of modern history and expressed his sympathy for the victims, a rare acknowledgment by an Arab leader of Jewish suffering during the Nazi genocide.
Abbas' comments appeared, in part, aimed at reaching out to Israeli public opinion at a time of deep crisis in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. The remarks were published by the Palestinian official news agency WAFA just hours before the start of Israel's annual Holocaust commemoration.
The decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been accompanied by mutual mistrust.
Many Israelis fear that the Palestinians aren't truly ready to accept a Jewish presence in the Holy Land, and that ignorance or even denial of the Holocaust among Palestinians is an expression of that attitude. Denials or attempts to minimize the Holocaust, which saw the systematic killing of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany in World War II, are widespread in the Arab world.
Many Palestinians fear that if they acknowledge the Holocaust, they will diminish their own claims based on years of suffering, including their uprooting during Israel's 1948 creation and decades under Israeli occupation.
Abbas' office said he discussed the Holocaust in a meeting with an American rabbi, Marc Schneier, who visited Abbas' headquarters in Ramallah last week.
Abbas told Schneier that "what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust is the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era," according to comments carried by WAFA on Sunday.
The agency quoted Abbas as expressing his "sympathy with the families of the victims and many other innocent people who were killed."
Abbas said the Holocaust was an expression of the idea of ethnic discrimination and racism, and connected it to the Palestinian suffering of today.