World leaders gather in Jerusalem for Auschwitz liberation anniversary

World leaders gather in Jerusalem for Auschwitz liberation anniversary
World leaders gather in Jerusalem for Auschwitz liberation anniversary

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Dozens of world leaders gathered in Jerusalem on Thursday for a solemn ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, amid a backdrop of rising anti-Semitism in Europe and the United States.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meeting on the sidelines of the conference with his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin, said xenophobia and anti-Semitism must be opposed everywhere, regardless of who was behind the hatred.

"You just said that it's not known where anti-Semitism ends," Mr Putin told Mr Rivlin, referring to remarks the Israeli president made at their meeting. "Unfortunately we do know this - Auschwitz is its end-result."

Mr Rivlin also thanked world leaders for expressing their “solidarity with the Jewish people” by attending the event.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used the event to attack Iran. He called the Islamic republic's leadership "the most antisemitic regime on the planet" during his address at the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

Dozens of world leaders gathered on Thursday to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, amid a backdrop of rising anti-Semitism in Europe and the US.

Israel has hailed the World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem memorial centre as the biggest international gathering in its history.

"I am concerned that we have yet to see a unified and resolute stance against the most anti-Semitic regime on the planet. A regime that openly seeks to develop nuclear weapons and annihilate the one and only Jewish state," Mr Netanyahu told assembled world leaders.

"Israel salutes President and Vice President Pence for confronting the tyrants of Tehran," he told the audience, which included US Vice President Mike Pence.

The high-profile guest list includes French President Emmanuel Macron, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the UK's Prince Charles.

However, the president of Poland, where the death camp was built by the Nazi German occupiers during World War Two, will stay away due to rankling disputes with both Russia and Israel.

Poland will host its own event at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum on January 27, as it does every year.

More than one million people, most of them Jews, were killed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Six million Jews died in the Holocaust.

While the focus in Jerusalem was on the Holocaust and its haunting legacy, modern politics have affected the event, held at a time of soaring US-Iranian tensions and before Israel's March elections.

Mr Netanyahu this week drew a direct link between the Nazis' "Final Solution" to exterminate Europe's Jews and the threat that Israel says it faces from its arch-foe, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

While in the Nazi death camps, he said, "a third of the Jewish people went up in flames", today "Iran openly declares every day that it wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth".

"I think the lesson of Auschwitz is: one, stop bad things when they're small. And Iran is a very bad thing, it's not that small, but it could get a lot bigger with nuclear weapons."

Mr Netanyahu enjoys strong backing from US President Donald Trump, who in 2018 pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, has heaped pressure on Tehran and ordered the targeted killing of a top Iranian general on January 3.

In his talks with Mr Pence, Mr Netanyahu was expected to seek reaffirmation of Washington's support for Israeli settlement policy in the Palestinian occupied territories and on other contentious issues.

The most powerful player in Jerusalem will be Russia's President Vladimir Putin, a key actor in the Middle East since his forces, along with Iranian fighters, started backing Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in 2015.

The commemorations were organised by Moshe Kantor, a billionaire close to the Kremlin who is also a prominent figure in Russia's Jewish community and the president of the European Jewish Congress.

Mr Putin, who is travelling with his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, will give a key speech, but Poland's President Andrzej Duda is staying away after being denied the right to address the event.

Relations between Moscow and Warsaw, its Cold War-era satellite, have been strained since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in 2014, and have deteriorated further in disagreements over history.

Last month, Putin provoked an outcry after he made the false claim that Poland had colluded with Adolf Hitler and contributed to the outbreak of World War II.

Poland, which sees Moscow as rewriting history and ignoring its own 1939 non-aggression pact with Hitler, has urged Putin "not to use the memory of the victims of the Holocaust for political games".

Updated: January 23, 2020 06:24 PM

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