Saudi sheikh leads prayers outside Auschwitz Holocaust memorial

Saudi sheikh leads prayers outside Auschwitz Holocaust memorial
Saudi sheikh leads prayers outside Auschwitz Holocaust memorial

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - A senior Saudi religious leader and close ally of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman led a congregation in prayer when he visited the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland on Thursday in a landmark tour.

Mohammed Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Mecca-based Muslim World League (MWL), visited the Nazi concentration camp alongside a delegation of American Jewish Committee (AJC) officials and Islamic leaders from at least 24 other countries, Israeli media reported.

On the visit, Al-Issa led the group of Muslim scholars for the midday prayer, which they prayed shortened as they were travelling, Al-Arabiya reported.

The event will mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the armed forces of the Soviet Union.

The CEO of AJC, David Harris, said the trip would be "the most senior delegation of Muslim religious leaders to visit Auschwitz ever", according to a statement.

The group toured the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw as well as visiting a synagogue and mosque in the capital city, before sharing an interfaith Shabbat meal on Friday, AJC said.

While Arab and Muslim leaders and clerics have toured the death camp in the past, Al-Issa is thought to be the most senior religious leader to visit the camp, according to Auschwitz Memorial's press office.

The Muslim World League and the American Jewish Committee signed a memorandum last year in which they agreed to take part in the Auschwitz visit together.

Al-Issa visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC in 2018, where he urged "all Muslims to learn the history of the Holocaust, to visit memorials and museums of this horrific event and to teach its lesson to their children".

More than one million Jews were systematically murdered at the Auschwitz death camp in less than four years by the Nazi regime.

Most were starved, worked to death, gassed or killed in medical experiments.

Al-Issa, a former justice minister, is seen as the public face of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's version of moderate Islam, and has been a key figure in promoting an image of tolerance in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Read more: Saudi-Israeli relations: The emergence of a new alliance

Al-Issa has sought to strengthen ties with Evangelist and Jewish communities in the US, in a stark break from Saudi tradition, and has called for a Muslim-Christian-Jewish interfaith delegation to travel to Jerusalem.

Israel only has diplomatic relations with two Arab states, neighbouring Egypt and Jordan.

But various Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Oman, have upscaled their normalisation with Israel in recent months.

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