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Abbas, amid tensions, denounces Holocaust

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.

Abbas’ statement appeared to be part of an effort to reach out to Israelis after a reconciliation deal reached last week between his Fatah movement and the militant Islamist group Hamas that prompted Israel’s prime minister to suspend U.S.-brokered peace talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday 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.

Robert H. Serry, the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said in a statement after meeting Abbas on Thursday that he was assured that the unity accord would be carried out “on the basis of PLO commitments” to those conditions.

Hamas spokesmen have drawn a distinction between the positions of the group, which refuses to recognize Israel or renounce violence, and the negotiations with Israel, conducted by Abbas on behalf of the PLO.

“You don’t need organizations to recognize Israel,” Ghazi Hamad, deputy foreign minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, told the Israeli news website Ynet last week. “It’s enough that the Palestine Liberation Organization – the representative of the Palestinian people – recognizes the State of Israel.”

Sunday, however, Netanyahu made it clear that Abbas’ statements had not altered Israel’s fundamental position that it would not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by a group that it considers a terrorist organization.

“I will not negotiate with those who seek to exterminate my country,” Netanyahu said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

Netanyahu said Abbas was engaging in “damage control” and trying to “have it both ways” by lamenting the Holocaust even as he is accepting the backing of Hamas.

“President Abbas has to decide whether he wants a pact with Hamas or peace with Israel,” Netanyahu said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“He cannot speak out of both sides of his mouth.”