Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attempted to walk back controversial statements made during a recent address to the European Union parliament in Brussels, claiming on Saturday that he opposed "any attack on any religion", after having accused Israel of “poisoning Palestinian wells”.
"Palestine is the cradle of the three monotheistic faiths. We stand strongly against any attack on any religion," Abbas said in a statement. The tacit acknowledgement of Judaism's roots in the Land of Israel, comes in stark contrast to Palestinian Authority propaganda which has for decades attempted to diminish the Jewish people's ancient history in Israel.
In apparently unscripted Arabic remarks to the European Parliament on Thursday, Abbas said that recently "a number of rabbis in Israel made a clear declaration and asked their government to poison water to kill the Palestinians".
He gave no source for the accusation, but said it was part of wider Israeli campaign of anti-Arab incitement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office responded by accusing Abbas of disseminating "a blood libel in front of the European Parliament".
Abbas's office acknowledged on Saturday that the reports on which his comments had been based had proved to be unfounded.
"It has become evident that the alleged statements by a rabbi on poisoning Palestinian wells, which were reported by various media outlets, are baseless," it said.
Abbas "didn't intend to do harm to Judaism or to offend Jewish people around the world".
The accusation that Jews were poisoning the wells of Christians gained traction in 14th century Europe as a plague swept across the continent.
Another allegation from the Middle Ages — that Jews murdered Christian children to use their blood for ritual purposes — gave rise to the term "blood libel".
On Tuesday the well-poisoning story resurfaced in a statement by the Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry naming a "Rabbi Mlad" as authorizing contamination of the water supplies of Arab communities.
To date, no such edict has yet to be found, nor has any religious authority claimed such a statement.
AFP contributed to this report