Poland defends PM's Holocaust remark

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki gives a speech during the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 17, 2018 in Munich, southern Germany. (Thomas Kienzle/AFP)
Updated 18 February 2018

Poland defends PM's Holocaust remark

WARSAW: Poland on Sunday sought to defend remarks by its prime minister which Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu called "outrageous" and amounted to denying the Holocaust.
"The comments of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki during a discussion in Munich were by no means intended to deny the Holocaust, or charge the Jewish victims of the Holocaust with responsibility for what was a Nazi German perpetrated genocide," Morawiecki's spokeswoman Joanna Kopcinska said in a statement.
The Israeli premier, who like Morawiecki was in Munich for a global security conference, on Saturday responded angrily to the remark that the Holocaust had involved "Jewish perpetrators" as well as Polish ones.
It showed "an inability to understand history and a lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people", Netanyahu said in a statement.
Morawiecki's spokeswoman countered on Sunday that to the contrary the Polish prime minister "has repeatedly and categorically opposed denial of the Holocaust-the murder of European Jewry-as well as anti-Semitism in all its forms".
Morawiecki's claim about the Holocaust's perpetrators came amid an unprecedented diplomatic row with Israel sparked by a controversial law passed by Poland's senate this month.
The law sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone ascribing "responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish nation or state for crimes committed by the German Third Reich".
On Saturday Morawiecki had been questioned by a journalist who told of his mother's narrow escape from the Gestapo in Poland after learning that neighbours were planning to denounce them, and asked if recounting that would now be against the law in Poland.
Morawiecki responded: "It's not going to be punishable, not going to be seen as criminal, to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukraine and German perpetrators."
After a slew of negative reactions to the comments, the Polish PM's spokeswoman sought to clarify the remark saying his words "should be interpreted as a sincere call for open discussion of crimes committed against Jews during the Holocaust, regardless of the nationality of those involved in each crime."
"Each crime must be judged individually, and no single act of wickedness should burden with responsibility entire nations, which were conquered and enslaved by Nazi Germany," she said.


Afghan delegates head online for crucial talks

Updated 01 June 2020

Afghan delegates head online for crucial talks

  • Peace hopes rest on virtual forum with Taliban amid virus threat

KABUL: Afghan government and Taliban delegates are expected to begin online talks in mid-June in a bid to end a decades-old conflict in the country, officials told Arab News on Sunday.

While past meetings have been held in person, the latest round of negotiations will take place online because of the threat of coronavirus in the war-ravaged country.

“We see no challenges, the atmosphere and preparations are all set for the talks,” Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for Abdullah Abdullah, newly appointed chief of the High Council for National Reconciliation, told Arab News.

Negotiations could begin in “the next 10 or 15 days,” he said.

“The announcement of a cease-fire, a reduction in violence and the exchange of prisoners were all requirements for the start of the talks, and we have had progress on them recently,” Khawzoon said.

On Wednesday the Afghan government released a list of 20 delegates due to hold peace talks with the Taliban.

The team will be led by Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, a former spy chief who has held indirect negotiations with the militants in the past outside Afghanistan, he added.

In the lead-up to the talks, President Ashraf Ghani’s government will release 3,000 more Taliban prisoners, an official close to the Afghan leader told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

More than 2,000 Taliban inmates have already been freed as part of a historic peace deal in February.

In return, the Taliban released hundreds of government troops and, in a surprise move, announced a three-day cease-fire last week for Eid Al-Fitr.

The peace moves follow a buildup in fighting between the two sides despite the pandemic. Taliban attacks killed at least 146 people and injured 430 during Ramadan. 

Fears had been growing that the peace deal signed on Feb. 29 between the Taliban and the US would collapse.

The joint cease-fire followed talks in Qatar last week between the Taliban and Zalmay Khalilzad, US special representative for Afghanistan.

Khalilzad later traveled to Kabul for meetings with Afghan political leaders over a reduction in violence and an exchange of prisoners. 

“We welcome the Taliban’s decision to observe a cease-fire during Eid, as well as the Afghan government reciprocating and announcing its own,” Khalilzad said last Sunday.

Increasing Taliban attacks on government troops, and political infighting between Ghani and Abdullah over who would assume office as president, have delayed the talks.

After Washington failed to reconcile Ghani and Abdullah, both leaders agreed two weeks ago to share power, with Ghani leading the country for another five years and Abdullah appointed as chief of the peace talks.

Khalilzad described the cease-fire agreement as a “momentous opportunity that should not be missed,” and pressed both sides to agree on a new date to start negotiations.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also urged the two sides to start peace talks, with the release of prisoners as a first step. 

Pompeo said that he expected the Taliban “to adhere to their commitment not to allow released prisoners to return to the battlefield.”

Ghani said the release of Taliban inmates would be “expedited” and that his government’s negotiating team was ready to begin talks “as soon as possible.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, could not be reached for comment on the Taliban’s stance.

In the past, the group has insisted it will take part in talks with Kabul only after all 5,000 Taliban prisoners are freed.

Experts hope the latest developments are a step in the right direction.

“The Taliban do not seem to have any reservations about the structure of the government team, so the hope is high that the talks will take place by June 15,” Wahidullah Ghazikhail, an analyst, told Arab News.

“Some of Taliban’s field commanders seem to be divided on the talks, hoping to capture power again after the departure of US forces (by next spring), while the political leaders are pushing for a political settlement,” he said.