Police in Germany have opened a preliminary investigation against Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas over his comments that Israel had committed “50 Holocausts” against Palestinians.
The remarks, during a news conference in Berlin alongside German chancellor Olaf Scholz, sparked outrage in Germany, Israel and beyond.
At the press conference on Tuesday, Mr Abbas refused to condemn a deadly attack by Palestinian militants on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Instead, he countered by saying he could point to “50 Holocausts” by Israel.
Berlin Police has now confirmed a report by German newspaper Bild that Mr Abbas is being investigated for possible incitement to hatred after the force received a formal criminal complaint.
Downplaying the Holocaust is a criminal offence in Germany, but the opening of a preliminary inquiry does not automatically entail a full investigation.
Germany’s foreign ministry said that Mr Abbas - as a representative of the Palestinian Authority - would enjoy immunity from prosecution because he was visiting the country in an official capacity.
Germany does not recognise the Palestinian Territories as a sovereign state, a position Mr Scholz reaffirmed on Tuesday.
It comes after Mr Scholz on Wednesday said he was “disgusted by the outrageous remarks” at the press conference.
He added in a statement on Twitter: “For us Germans in particular, any relativisation of the singularity of the Holocaust is intolerable and unacceptable. I condemn any attempt to deny the crimes of the Holocaust.”
Mr Scholz was criticized both in Germany and Israel for not rejecting the comments immediately at the press conference at the Chancellery.
Germany has long argued the term “Holocaust” should only be used to describe the Nazis’ singular crime of killing six million Jews before and during World War II.
On Wednesday, Mr Abbas appeared to walk back his comments. In a written statement, his office said that “president Mahmoud Abbas reaffirms that the Holocaust is the most heinous crime in modern human history.”
The statement stressed that “his answer was not intended to deny the singularity of the Holocaust that occurred in the last century, and condemning it in the strongest terms.”