Abbas says sorry for 'anti-Semitic' comment

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Five days after anti-Semitic speech at the Congress of the Palestinian National Council, Palestinian authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas apologized.

"I would like to assure everyone that it was not my intention to do so, and to reiterate my full respect for the Jewish faith, as well as other monotheistic faiths", he said in a statement issued by his office in Ramallah after a four-day meeting of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), at which he had made the remarks.

The statement deplored anti-Semitism and called the Holocaust the "most heinous crime in history".

Worldwide leaders, Jewish groups and Israeli leaders widely accused Abbas of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

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Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman immediately rejected the statement on Twitter.

In the introduction to his 1984 book titled "The Other Aspect: The Secret Ties Between the Nazis and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement", Abbas wrote about the figure of 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust: "In truth, no one can refute or confirm this number. They say 'it is because we are Jews",' he told the hundreds of delegates.

He also reiterated claims that Israel was a colonial project encouraged by European leaders who wanted to be rid of their Jewish populations.

Al Jazeera's Harry Fawcett, reporting from the Gaza-Israel border, where protests continue for the sixth Friday in a row, said that Abbas' opening PNC speech "was interpreted by many people around the world that it's just another encapsulation of anti-Semitic prejudice and that by talking about their social behaviour he was giving some kind of legitimacy to anti-Jewish persecution, even the Holocaust". "President Abbas is a man of peace who has dedicated his entire political career to finding a just and lasting peace based on global law, freedom, justice, equality and coexistence between Israel and Palestine".

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Citing books written by various authors, Abbas said: "They say hatred against Jews was not because of their religion, it was because of their social profession".

'To all those who think Israel is the reason that we don't have peace, think again, ' he added.

The United States has twice blocked draft statements at the council expressing concern about the violence in Gaza, in which almost 50 people have been killed by Israeli forces.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas adjusts his glasses during a news conference with Canada's Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon (not pictured) at the Lester B. Pearson building in Ottawa May 25, 2009. He concluded his statement with a call for a two-state solution.

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