TEHRAN, (Reuters) – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday told delegates at an international conference questioning the Holocaust that Israel’s days were numbered.
Ahmadinejad, who has sparked international outcry by referring to the killing of six million Jews in World War Two as a “myth” and calling for Israel to be “wiped off the map”, launched another verbal attack on the Jewish state.
“Thanks to people’s wishes and God’s will the trend for the existence of the Zionist regime is downwards and this is what God has promised and what all nations want,” he said. “Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out,” he added. His words received warm applause from delegates at the Holocaust conference, who included ultra-Orthodox anti-Israel Jews and European and American writers who argue the Holocaust was either fabricated or exaggerated.
The Vatican, Germany and the European Commission added their voices on Tuesday to others — such as the United States and Israel — who have condemned the Tehran meeting.
Iran says it organised the conference to shed light on the reasons behind the formation of the state of Israel after World War Two and to allow researchers from countries where it is a crime to question the Holocaust to speak freely. “Iran is your home and is the home of all freedom seekers of the world,” Ahmadinejad said. “Here you can express your views and exchange opinions in a friendly, brotherly and free atmosphere.”
He urged countries where Holocaust denial is a crime, to respect freedom of speech and not to take action against any of the conference participants on their return.
Human rights groups frequently number Iran as one of the world’s worst violators of free speech, where scores of newspapers have been closed, journalists jailed, access to Web sites blocked and government critics hounded out of the country.
Delegates at the meeting earlier on Tuesday agreed to form a “fact-finding” committee to study the Holocaust.
The head of the new committee, identified as Iranian academic Mohammad Ali Ramin, said its members were “not racist or opposed to any particular group”. “Rather they are just seeking the truth to set humanity truly free,” the ISNA students news agency quoted him as saying, without naming the committee members.
Robert Faurisson, a French scholar who has described the Holocaust as a “historical lie”, said the committee included members from the United States, France, Canada, Switzerland, Austria, Iran, Bahrain and Syria, ISNA reported.
The Vatican called the Holocaust an “immense tragedy” which had to remain forever a warning for all people to respect the rights of others.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the Tehran meeting “shows the danger of the situation Israel is in and in particular the threat that Israel lives under.” She was speaking after meeting Ehud Olmert, who was on his first visit to Germany as Israeli Prime Minister.
Germany has made it a priority to support Israel since the Holocaust under the Nazis and the end of World War Two in 1945.
EU Commissioner Franco Frattini expressed “shock and indignation”, adding: “Anti-Semitism has no place in Europe; nor should it in any other part of the world.”