JERUSALEM — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday issued a statement calling the Holocaust "the most heinous crime" against humanity in modern times and expressing sympathy with families of the victims.
The statement, on the eve of Israel's observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day, was the first of its kind by a Palestinian leader, and appeared to be part of an effort to reach out to Israelis after a reconciliation deal reached last week between Abbas' Fatah movement and the militant Islamist group Hamas that prompted Israel to suspend U.S.-brokered peace talks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed Abbas' declarations, saying that they were meant to "placate international public opinion" after the Palestinian leader had made a pact with Hamas, a group that "denies the Holocaust while trying to create another Holocaust by destroying the state of Israel."
Abbas' statement on the Holocaust came a day after the Palestinian leader said that the planned unity government under his leadership would recognize Israel and renounce violence.
Since the announcement of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, analysts have debated whether the deal might meet conditions set by the group of Middle East mediators known as the Quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — for a Palestinian government to qualify for diplomatic recognition. Those conditions are recognition of Israel, nonviolence and adherence to previous agreements.
The statement by Abbas emerged from his meeting a week earlier with Marc Schneier, an American rabbi who heads a group that promotes Muslim-Jewish understanding. Schneier had suggested that Abbas make a statement to mark the annual Holocaust commemoration.
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.