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TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday expressed doubt that the Holocaust took place and suggested Israel be moved to Europe.
His comments, reported by Iran's 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.
"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?" he said.
"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."
Historians say six million Jews were killed in the Nazi Holocaust. Ahmadinejad's remarks drew swift rebukes from Israel and Washington.
Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli 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".
"Just to remind Mr. Ahmadinejad, we've been here long before his ancestors were here," 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."
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."
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.
Close allies when Iran was ruled by the U.S.-backed Shah, Iran and Israel have become implacable foes since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.
Israel accuses Iran of giving arms and funding to militant Palestinian groups such as Islamic Jihad and of building nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charges.
Tehran calls Israel a "terrorist state" and has developed missiles which can reach it. It says it would use them if Israel, itself believed to be nuclear armed, tried to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities.
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?"
Jews trace their roots in Israel back to Biblical times.
Ahmadinejad concluded his remarks by reiterating Iran's proposal that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be resolved via a referendum of all the inhabitants of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank as well as Palestinian refugees in neighbouring countries.
"Whatever they decide will be accepted by all humanity. This is a clear democratic solution which is based on international principles," he said.
(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem)
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