By Arshad Mohammed
BERLIN, Oct 22 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hopes to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to tone down his rhetoric when the two meet on Thursday, days after the Israeli leader linked a Muslim leader to the Holocaust.
Speaking just before a visit to Germany, and following three weeks of Israeli-Palestinian violence, Netanyahu suggested Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Muslim elder in Jerusalem during the 1940s, had persuaded Adolf Hitler to exterminate the Jews.
The comments have attracted wide criticism from Israeli opposition politicians and Holocaust experts, who accused the Israeli prime minister of distorting the historical record.
A senior U.S. State Department official told reporters that Kerry hopes to persuade both sides to tone down their rhetoric as he began a four-day trip to Europe and the Middle East by sitting down with Netanyahu in Berlin.
"Some of the rhetoric on the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount has really fueled the tensions," the senior U.S. official said as Kerry flew to Germany, his first stop on a trip expected to include talks with top Palestinian and Jordanian officials.
"The rhetoric itself helps to feed the violence," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added. "By changing the nature of the rhetoric, hopefully we can diminish some of the impetus behind the violence."
The tone mirrored that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a joint news conference with Netanyahu on Wednesday evening.
"We have to do everything to calm down the situation and in this spirit I think all sides need to make a contribution," she said.
It is not clear why Netanyahu decided to launch into the issue now, but his remarks came with tensions between Israelis and Palestinians at a new peak, particularly over a Jerusalem holy site overseen by the current mufti.
Asked about the comments at the news conference in Berlin, Netanyahu said: "Hitler is responsible for the Holocaust. No one should deny that" before adding that al-Husseini had supported the final solution.
"There is evidence to this effect in both the Nuremberg trials and of course elaborated in the Eichmann trial," he said, standing next to an uncomfortable looking Merkel.
Nine Israelis have been killed in Palestinian stabbings, shootings and vehicle attacks since the start of October, while 48 Palestinians, including 24 attackers, among them children, have been killed by Israeli security forces in response.
Among the causes of the turmoil are Palestinians' anger at what they see as Jewish encroachment on the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, Islam's holiest site outside Saudi Arabia, which is also revered by Jews as the location of two ancient Jewish temples. (Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Noah Barkin)
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