RIGA - During an official visit to Israel, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga expressed regret over the mass killing of Jews in the Baltic state during World War II.
"Regrettably, there were people in Latvia who took part in the Nazi campaign to annihilate the Jewish population in Europe," Vike-Freiberga said during a dinner with Israeli President Moshe Katsav.
"To our eternal shame and sorrow, the Shoah will forever remain one of the most tragic chapters in Latvia's and Europe's history," she added.
At the same time, "there were also a number of brave souls, of whom about 500 have been officially documented in Latvia, who risked their own lives and the lives of their loved ones to hide and protect their Jewish friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, as well as complete strangers," Vike-Freiberga told her Israeli counterpart.
The president said that Latvia had contributed to researching the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity, though she stressed the need for further research.
"A number of governmental and non-governmental organizations are working together with Latvia's Jewish community to ensure that the events of the Shoah in Latvia are thoroughly researched and that the victims are not forgotten," she said.
"The Historians' Commission has established a successful partnership with the Yad Vashem memorial, and the Prosecutor-General's Office is continuing its investigations into the crimes of that period. The events of the Shoah are part of the school curriculum in Latvian history and ethics courses," said Vike-Freiberga, adding that an international conference devoted to Holocaust research and education would begin in Riga on July 4 and that another conference 's "Jews in a Changing World" 's would take place in September. She invited Israeli leaders to both events.
In the meantime, the Latvian president supported Israel in its categorical stance on the start of possible talks with Hamas. She said that she believed it would be a violation of international principles to open talks with Hamas, which recently won the Palestinian elections, before the group has stated its willingness to renounce terrorism and recognize Israel's right to exist.
"If Hamas has set the destruction of another country as its goal, and has not given up this aim so far, to sit down at the negotiation table is a violation of international principles," Vike-Freiberga told the press on Feb. 21.
She said it was an important question whether Hamas was ready to reconcile itself by accepting the existence of the Israeli state and beginning negotiations. "Right now Hamas has a unique historic opportunity," she said, but if the group is guided by extremists calling for extreme actions, the result would be "a dead end."
She stated that Israel was listening to Latvia's opinion: "We are part of the voice that speaks as the voice of Europe, and Latvia as an EU member state carries certain weight to represent the European opinion."
Hamas leaders will go to Moscow for talks in early March, a development that has disappointed Israel and the U.S.A.
The EU said it was willing to begin talks with Hamas if the movement gave up terrorist methods and recognized the state of Israel.