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Abbas recants claim that Israeli rabbis called for poisoning Palestinian water

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas speaks to AFP during an exclusive interview in his office in Ramallah on April 11, 2016
Thomas Coex (AFP)
Israel accused the Palestinian president of libeling the Jewish people

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday retracted accusations that Israeli rabbis had called for Palestinian wells to be poisoned, saying it had become "evident" such allegations were "baseless".

During his speech to the European Parliament in Brussels on Thursday Abbas made apparently unscripted Arabic remarks saying that recently "a number of rabbis in Israel made a clear declaration and asked their government to poison water to kill the Palestinians".

He cited the accusation, without giving any source, as part of an attack against what he said was Israeli incitement against the Palestinians.

The accusation that Jews were poisoning the wells of Christians gained traction in 14th century Europe as plague swept across the continent. Another allegation from the Middle Ages, that Jews murdered Christian children to use their blood for ritual purposes, is the source of the term "blood libel".

Israel accused the Palestinian president of libeling the Jewish people, after the well-poisoning story resurfaced in a statement by the Palestinian Liberation Organization, of which Abbas is chairman.

In a statement sent to media outlets on Saturday, Abbas "rejected all claims that accuse him and the Palestinian people of offending the Jewish religion" and "condemned all accusations of anti-Semitism."

"After it has become evident that the alleged statements by a rabbi on poisoning Palestinian wells, which were reported by various media outlets, are baseless, President Mahmoud Abbas has affirmed that he didn’t intend to do harm to Judaism or to offend Jewish people around the world," the statement read.

TOBIAS SCHWARZ                       (AFP/Archives)

It was not clear why Abbas, who was in Brussels for talks with top EU officials trying to kick-start stalled Israel-Palestinian peace talks, repeated the allegations on Thursday.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin was also in Brussels at the time, but a bid by European Parliament head Martin Schulz to broker a meeting between them failed "following Abbas's refusal" a spokesman for Rivlin said.

Netanyahu's office said the events in Brussels contradicted Abbas's declared willingness to negotiate an end to the conflict.

"Abu Mazen showed his true face in Brussels," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement, using a familiar Arabic name for president Mahmud Abbas.

"The person who refuses to meet the (Israeli) state president... and disseminates a blood libel in front of the European Parliament, lies when he claims that his hand is outstretched in peace," the statement said.

"I find it strange that president Mahmoud Abbas has refused again and again to meet with Israeli leaders," Rivlin himself said in a statement prior to flying home.

"We will not be able to build trust between us if we don't begin to speak directly."

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina denied that any encounter was ever planned.

"There was no appointment or preparation made for a meeting in Brussels between President Mahmoud Abbas and President Reuven Rivlin," he told AFP.

Negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians have been at a standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.

Mark Nayman/GPO

(Staff with agencies)

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