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Iran's president expresses doubts Holocaust occurred

TEHRAN -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran yesterday expressed doubt the Holocaust took place and suggested the Jewish state of Israel be moved to Europe.

His comments, reported by Iran's official IRNA news agency from a news conference he gave in Mecca, follow his call in October for Israel to be ''wiped off the map," which sparked widespread international outrage.

The latest comments also provoked quick condemnation. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany called them ''totally unacceptable" and the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said ''I condemn them unreservedly. They have no place in civilized political debate."

Ahmadinejad was quoted by IRNA as saying: ''Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces and they insist on it to the extent that if anyone proves something contrary to that they condemn that person and throw them in jail."

''Although we don't accept this claim, if we suppose it is true, our question for the Europeans is: is the killing of innocent Jewish people by Hitler the reason for their support to the occupiers of Jerusalem?" he said.

''If the Europeans are honest they should give some of their provinces in Europe -- like in Germany, Austria, or other countries -- to the Zionists and the Zionists can establish their state in Europe. You offer part of Europe and we will support it," he said.

The Nazis killed some 6 million Jews during their 1933-1945 rule. Ahmadinejad's remarks drew swift rebukes from Israel and Washington. Ra'anan Gissin, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, said Ahmadinejad was voicing ''the consensus that exists in many circles in the Arab world that the Jewish people . . . do not have the right to establish a Jewish, democratic state in their ancestral homeland."

''Just to remind Mr. Ahmadinejad, we've been here long before his ancestors were here," Gissin said. ''Therefore, we have a birthright to be here in the land of our forefathers and to live here."

Deputy US State Department spokesman Adam Ereli called the remarks ''appalling and reprehensible."

''They certainly don't inspire hope among any of us in the international community that the government in Iran is prepared to engage as a responsible member of the community," he said.

At a news conference with France's president, Jacques Chirac, near Berlin, Merkel also said: ''With our historical responsibility in mind, I can only say that we reject them [Ahmadinejad's comments] in the harshest possible terms.

''We will do everything to make it clear that Israel's right to existence is in no way endangered. I am firmly convinced that a majority in the international community has a similar opinion on this issue," she said.

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