A German security guard has been arrested for making a Hitler salute in front of a group of Israeli athletes visiting a memorial to the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, police said on Wednesday.

The 16 athletes from the Israeli European Championships team were visiting the Olympic Park in Munich on Tuesday evening when the banned gesture was made, police said in a statement.

"One of the four security guards present was observed at around 7:20 pm making a National Socialist gesture (forbidden 'Hitler salute')," the statement said.

Police immediately arrested the suspect, a 19-year-old from Berlin, and he has been banned from all further European Championships events.

The athletes themselves had not noticed the gesture, they said.

The arrest comes at a sensitive time, with Munich hosting the European Championships ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Olympics massacre, in which 11 Israelis were murdered.

On September 5, 1972, eight gunmen broke into the Israeli team's flat at the Olympic village, shooting dead two and taking nine Israelis hostage, threatening to kill them unless 232 Palestinian prisoners were released. 

West German police responded with a bungled rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight hostage-takers and a police officer. 

The families of those killed have received 4.5 million euros in compensation but say it is not enough and have vowed to boycott upcoming commemorations of the tragedy.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas also further inflamed the situation during a visit to Berlin on Tuesday when he failed to condemn the massacre and instead compared crimes committed against the Palestinians to the Holocaust.

At a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Abbas was asked if he would apologise on behalf of the Palestinian gunmen who carried out the Munich massacre. 

Abbas did not give a direct reply but instead compared it to the situation in the Palestinian territories, and accused Israel of committing "50 massacres, 50 Holocausts" against Palestinians since 1947.

Israel, Germany slam Abbas Holocaust claim

Israel and Germany on Wednesday also condemned remarks by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Berlin, where he compared the Holocaust to the Jewish state's killings of Palestinians.

Standing beside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Abbas was asked Tuesday if he would apologise on behalf of the Palestinian gunmen who carried out the 1972 Munich Olympics hostage-taking in which 11 Israelis were killed.

Abbas did not give a direct reply regarding the attack half a century ago this year but instead compared it to the situation faced by Palestinians, accusing Israel of committing "50 massacres, 50 Holocausts" against Palestinians since 1947.

"Our demand is to say: enough... I don't want more than peace. Please come to peace, come to security, let's build trust between us and you," added the 87-year-old.

Scholz did not immediately challenge Abbas on his Holocaust comments during the press conference but, following widespread criticism, tweeted on Wednesday that he was "disgusted by the outrageous remarks" made by the Palestinian leader.

"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," Scholz wrote on Twitter.

The German chancellor drew fire for failing to immediate condemn Abbas while standing alongside him.

"One would have liked (Scholz's) clarification to be more immediate," wrote Spiegel magazine.

Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, said he found it "astonishing and disconcerting that the German side was not prepared for Abbas' provocations, and that his statements on the Holocaust were left unchallenged at the press conference".

- 'Monstrous lie' -

In Israel, Abbas' remarks drew a hail of condemnation.

"Mahmud Abbas accusing Israel of having committed '50 Holocausts' while standing on German soil is not only a moral disgrace, but a monstrous lie," wrote Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Twitter.

"Six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, including one and a half million Jewish children. History will never forgive him."

Defence Minister Benny Gantz called the Palestinian leader's remarks "an attempt to distort and rewrite history".

Abbas's office on Wednesday said "the Holocaust is the most heinous crime in modern human history".

Abbas' "answer was not intended to deny the singularity of the Holocaust that occurred in the last century," said a statement published by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, adding that he condemns the mass murder "in the strongest terms".

Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said Abbas did not deny the "massacres Jews were subjected to in the era of Nazi Germany".

"But he told the world not to lose sight of the massacres the Palestinian people are subjected to," Shtayyeh said.

- 'Respond immediately' -

Abbas often uses the terms "genocide" and "apartheid" to refer to Israel's treatment of Palestinians, but rarely cites the Holocaust.

Scholz contradicted the Palestinian leader when Abbas used the term apartheid on Tuesday, with the German chancellor saying he did "not think that is correct, to use the term to describe the situation". 

Groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have concluded that Israel's treatment of Palestinians amounts to apartheid -- a charge the state strongly denies.

A Holocaust survivor and leader of the Jewish community in the Munich region, Charlotte Knobloch, said Abbas' statements must be met with more than a verbal rebuff from Scholz.

"German politicians must know who their partners in the Palestinian Authority are and act accordingly. The clear words of the German chancellor afterwards should not be the only consequence."

The chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Dani Dayan, said Germany "must respond appropriately to this inexcusable behaviour". 


Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.