Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday expressed doubt that the Holocaust occurred and suggested Israel be moved to Europe.
His comments, reported by the official IRNA news agency from a news conference he gave in the Saudia Arabian city of Mecca, follow his call in October for Israel to be "wiped off the map," which sparked widespread international condemnation.
"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," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
"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?"
"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 added.
'Jews have no roots in Palestine'
Earlier in his remarks, the Iranian president, a former Revolutionary Guardsman who won a surprise election victory in June, said "the question is where do those who rule in Palestine as occupiers come from? Where were they born? Where did their fathers live? They have no roots in Palestine but they have taken the fate of Palestine in their hands."
"Isn't the right to national self-determination one of the principles of the United Nations charter? Why do they deprive Palestinians of this right?" he said.
Israel and the international community were quick to criticize the Iranian president's controversial remarks.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Ahmadinejad’s comments reflect a clear denial of the Holocaust and clearly defy international law recognizing Israel’s right to exist.
In a meeting with Assistant Secretary of State David Welch in Tel Aviv, Shalom called on the international community to spare no effort to “prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Europe and Russia have to join the United States in endorsing Iran’s referral to the (United Nation) Security Council.”
Shalom added that under the leadership of Ahmadinejad Iran will seek all means to destroy the State of Israel.
Yaki Dayan, head of the political department in Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom's bureau, told Ynet that Iran has chosen to deny the Holocaust at a time when the world took the historic decision to commemorate Holocaust Day at the United Nations.
“The comments should serve an additional warning to the international community to act quickly, firmly and under one front against the Iranian threat,” Dayan told Ynet.
Major General (Res.) Uzi Dayan warned that military action against Iran will prompt Hizbullah to fire Katyusha rockets toward Israel’s northern region; such an act would also incite Palestinian terror groups to carry out terror attacks, he added.
Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said in Tel Aviv 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".
'No place in civilized political debate'
"Just to remind Mr. Ahmadinejad, we've been here long before his ancestors," Gissin said.
"Therefore, we have a birthright to be here in the land of our forefathers and to live here. Thank God we have the capability to deter and to prevent such a statement from becoming a reality."
U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said in response to Ahmadinejad's comments, "These latest remarks ... are clearly appalling and reprehensible. They certainly don't inspire hope among any of us in the international community that the government of Iran is prepared to engage as a responsible member of that community."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "It just further underscores our concerns about the regime in Iran and it's all the more reason why it's so important that the regime not have the ability to develop nuclear weapons."
At a news conference with French President Jacques Chirac near Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel 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. Chirac said he agreed completely.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said "I condemn them unreservedly. They have no place in civilized political debate."
Religious hardliners in Iran do not publicly deny the Holocaust occurred but say its scale has been exaggerated to justify the creation of Israel and continued Western support for it.
Roee Nahmias, Reuters contributed to the report