Bartek Wrzesniowsk / AFP - Getty Images
Ziad Al-Bandak, the Palestinian president's adviser for religious affairs, places flowers at the Auschwitz death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, on July 27.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- The Hamas Islamist group in charge of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday denounced a Palestinian official's visit to the site of a Nazi death camp in Poland, and called the Holocaust in which 6 million European Jews perished an "alleged tragedy."
Ziad al-Bandak, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who governs in the occupied West Bank, had made a rare visit by a Palestinian official to the site of the Auschwitz death camp late last month.
"It was an unjustified and unhelpful visit that served only the Zionist occupation," said Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas. Hamas rejects Israel's existence and interim peace accords reached by Abbas' more moderate Fatah group with Israel.
Barhoum further called Bandak's visit to Auschwitz, a camp where the Nazis killed 1.5 million people, most of them Jews but also other Polish citizens, during World War Two, as "a marketing of a false Zionist alleged tragedy."
He said he saw this as coming "at the expense of a real Palestinian tragedy," alluding to Israel's control over territory where Palestinians live and seek to establish a state.
Israel was founded as a Jewish state in 1948, several years after the wartime genocide occurred.
Islamist extremists have taken to denying the Holocaust happened as part of a narrative rejecting Israel's existence, often at the encouragement of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called the genocide "a myth."
Israel and Iran have been locked in a dispute over an Iranian nuclear program the West fears is intended to produce atomic weapons. The West has imposed sanctions on Tehran to try and force it to rein in the project. Iran insists its atomic work is intended solely for peaceful purposes.
Iran is an ally of Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007 from Abbas' Fatah group. Gaza, home to some 1.5 million Palestinians, many refugees or descendants of those who fled or were driven away when Israel was founded, is separate and isolated from the other Palestinian territory of the West Bank.
Israel tightly monitors Gaza's frontiers, and cross-border violence is frequent with militants often firing rockets at Israel and Israel staging deadly bombing raids against militant targets in the coastal territory.
Bandak's visit to Auschwitz, where he laid a wreath at the invitation of a group working for tolerance in Poland, was a rare one by a Palestinian to the death camp site. Muslim officials from other countries have also paid respects there.
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says, "all options," including military force, are on the table to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons. Watch his entire speech in Israel.
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