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Arafat Visits Anne Frank Museum

March 31, 1998 GMT

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat paid a private visit to the Anne Frank House museum today, saying he wanted to learn firsthand about the young Jewish diarist and her family.

``I want to see for myself the reality of the facts about what they suffered,″ Arafat said before entering the museum.

Anne died at age 15 in a concentration camp in the final weeks of World War II after her family’s hiding place from the Nazis, a small suite of rooms hidden behind a bookcase, was discovered. Her diary was first published in 1947.

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The narrow canalside house was fenced off for Arafat’s visit. Crowds cheered as the Palestinian leader, flanked by aides, entered the house.

``It is a sad story,″ Arafat said after his 15-minute visit. ``This story is not to be repeated for our children or for their children,″ he said, referring to Palestinian and Israeli youngsters.

Asked if he was touched by what he saw, Arafat replied, ``No doubt.″

Amsterdam Mayor Schelto Patijn, who accompanied Arafat, said the Palestinian leader ``was very moved by what he saw. He took it all in with great interest.″

The foundation that runs the museum said it had no objection to Arafat’s visit, which marked a rare Palestinian acknowledgment of Jewish suffering during the Holocaust.

There were no protests outside the museum but a group representing Dutch Jews and families of World War II resistance workers reacted angrily to the visit.

``This is a very sensitive issue. The majority of the Dutch Jews were killed in the war and the Anne Frank House is the symbol of that mass murder,″ said Wim Kortenhoeven of the Netherlands Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Kortenhoeven said it was naive to think that Arafat could learn more about the Holocaust. ``This is no more than a cheap publicity stunt that desecrates the memory of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust,″ he said.

In January, Arafat sought an invitation to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial in Washington to make an official gesture of regret for Jewish suffering at the hands of the Nazis. After initially refusing, the museum reversed course under pressure from the Clinton administration. Arafat ultimately declined the invitation, citing time constraints.

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center welcomed Arafat’s visit to the Anne Frank House.

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``The PLO chief’s visit is a long way from the early ’90s when an official PLO publication published articles which described the Holocaust as `the lie of the twentieth century,′ ″ Rabbi Abraham Cooper said in a statement.

The Anne Frank House museum maintains the rooms as they were when Anne and her family hid there for two years before being betrayed and deported to Nazi concentration camps. Anne died of typhus in 1945. Her father Otto was the only family member to survive the war. He died in 1980.