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Arab Media Mum On Iran-Israel Flap

Arab governments appeared reluctant Thursday to condemn Iran's president for calling the Holocaust a "myth" used by Europeans to create a Jewish state in the heart of the Islamic world.

While official Arab reaction in such cases is usually slower than international reaction, any issue involving a defense of Israel is a thorny one for Arab governments, who risk appearing to side with Israel against a Muslim nation.

The comments by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, broadcast live Wednesday on state-run Iranian television, drew quick condemnation from Israel, the European Union and the United States.

However, in the United Arab Emirates, the top three Arabic-language newspapers buried the remarks deep in their Thursday editions, with no commentary. Newspapers in the country are government-controlled.

In neighboring Saudi Arabia, government-controlled newspapers picked up the statements from international news agencies and ran them on inside pages. They did not comment on them.

Arabic language newspapers circulated widely in the Arab world, such as the London-based Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat, carried the news on their front pages, but also without editorials.

A few years ago, under the leadership of former president Mohammad Khatami, Iran made strides to repair and strengthen ties with its Arab neighbors. But Ahmadinejad's ultraconservative positions and rhetoric dating to the 1979 Islamic revolution has again made Arab states view Iran with caution.

Still, Arab governments are loath to appear to support Israel against Iran, especially at a time when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Iraq remain unresolved.

Speaking to thousands of people in the southeastern city of Zahedan this week, Ahmadinejad said: "Today, they have created a myth in the name of Holocaust and consider it to be above God, religion and the prophets."

Ahmadinejad said the West had harmed Muslims, invaded their countries and plundered their wealth.

"If your civilization consists of aggression, making oppressed people homeless, suffocating the voices of justice and bringing poverty to a majority of the world's people, we say loudly that we hate your hollow civilization," he said.

Ahmadinejad first provoked an international outcry in October when he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

Previously he expressed doubt about the Nazi destruction of European Jewry during the World War II. But Wednesday was the first time when he said in public that it was a myth.

The Palestinians tried to distance themselves from his comments.

"Ahmadinejad's statements hurt the Palestinian cause because Israel and the Holocaust enjoy international recognition, and any denial of the Holocaust and Israel hurt not only those behind it, but also justify Israeli actions against them," Hani al-Masri said in the Al Ayyam newspaper, which is close to the Palestinian Authority.

Meir Litvak, an expert on Iran at Tel Aviv University, said Ahmadinejad's remarks reflect his true ideology. "These statements show that Iran is led by people who are narrow-minded and dangerous in the way they perceive the world."

And Litvak said that while the statements are serious, Iran's nuclear program and support for militant Palestinian and Lebanese groups were "much more dangerous" for Middle East stability.

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