Washington, Mar. 20-(AFP) The US State Department on Wednesday slammed the publication this month of an anti-Semitic column in a Saudi newspaper and said it had complained about its appearance to officials in Riyadh.

Spokesman Richard Boucher said Washington had long-standing concerns about incitement against Jews in the Arab press, but singled out one article in particular that repeated the long-disproved theory that Jews use the blood of Christians and Muslims in pastries they prepare for religious holidays. "We were particularly concerned by the appearance of an article in a recent Saudi daily repeating a century's old calumny," he told reporters, two days after an official US government editorial denouncing the same story began airing on the Voice of America (VOA).

"The Saudi daily claims to report this as fact and that is outrageous and despised, this belief," Boucher said. "We approached the Saudis to register our complaint about the baseless and inflammatory nature of this article."

He referred to a March 10 column in Saudi Arabia's Al-Riyadh newspaper in which the author repeated the "blood libel" against the Jews. The VOA editorial called the columnist's accusations "preposterous" and "a centuries-old anti-Semitic lie that has been used repeatedly to stir hatred against Jews." "No one who is not blinded by hate for Jews could ever believe such nonsense," the editorial said, adding that identifying the author as a doctor from a prominent Saudi university "helps to make her lies sound credible."

Boucher noted that Al-Riyadh's editor-in-chief, Turki al Sudairy, had written a follow-up to the March 10 piece on March 19 in which he said the article had been "unfit for publication."

Sudairy said in his follow-up that he had been out of the country when the first column was written and had been upset to see it in print. "I went back to the article and found it unfit for publishing because it is not based on any historical or scientific fact but in fact is against every religious ritual in the world, including Buddhism and Hinduism," Sudairy wrote, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

Despite the retraction, Boucher said the United States would continue to raise with various Arab governments anti-Semitic slurs that appear in the media in their countries. "Anti-Semitism continues to be a problem in pro-government and opposition party media throughout the Middle East, including in Saudi media outlets," he said, calling the practice "repugnant."

"Clearly we believe that such material is counterproductive to improving relations and dialogue," Boucher added. "We do continue to press the Saudi government on this at the highest levels and the clearest terms possible. Saudi officials have promised to address the issue and we will continue to follow up on it."

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