Reuters International

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas chairs a Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 4, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman - RTX2CU11

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By Robin Emmott and Dan Williams

BRUSSELS/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israeli rabbis on Thursday of calling for the poisoning of Palestinian water, in what appeared to be an invocation of a widely debunked media report that recalled a medieval anti-Semitic libel.

The remarks drew strong condemnation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who termed them a "blood libel", in a statement issued by his office.

Abbas's remarks, in a speech to the European parliament, did not appear on the official transcript issued by his office, suggesting he may have spoken off the cuff as he condemned Israeli actions against Palestinians amid stalled peace talks.

"Only a week ago, a number of rabbis in Israel announced, and made a clear announcement, demanding that their government poison the water to kill the Palestinians," Abbas said.

"Isn't that clear incitement to commit mass killings against the Palestinian people?"

The Israeli statement said that Abbas had "showed his true face in Brussels," adding that "by refusing to meet with the Israeli president and with ... Netanyahu for direct negotiations, and by spreading a blood libel in the European parliament, his claim that his hand is outstretched for peace is false."

Abbas's remarks were made as Israel's president, Reuven Rivlin, made a parallel visit to Brussels. Rivlin's office said Abbas had declined a European proposal that the two meet there. A spokesman for Abbas said any such meeting would require more preparation.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.

Abbas, who received a standing ovation from EU lawmakers after his speech, gave no source for his information -- and there has been no evidence over the past week of any call by Israeli rabbis to poison Palestinian water.

Israel said in the statement that it "awaits the day when Abu Mazen (Abbas) will stop spreading lies and be involved in incitement. Until then, Israel will continue to protect itself from the Palestinian incitement which generates acts of terror."

MASSACRES

Reports of an alleged rabbinical edict emerged on Sunday, when the Turkish state news agency Anadolu said that a "Rabbi Shlomo Mlma, chairman of the Council of Rabbis in the West Bank settlements", had issued an advisory to allow Jewish settlers to take such action.

The same day, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, on its website, cited what it said was a water-poisoning call from a "Rabbi Mlmad" and demanded his arrest.

Reuters and other news outlets in Israel could not locate any rabbi named Shlomo Mlma or Mlmad, and there is no listed organisation called the Council of Rabbis in the West Bank.

Gulf News, in a report on Sunday, said a number of rabbis had issued the purported advisory. It attributed the allegation to Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organisation of veteran soldiers critical of the military's treatment of Palestinians.

A spokesman for Breaking the Silence told Reuters the group had not provided any such information.

For Jews, allegations of water poisoning strike a bitter chord. In the 14th century, as plague swept across Europe, false accusations that Jews were responsible for the disease by deliberately poisoning wells led to massacres of Jewish communities.

(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Andrew Heavens)

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