But the 78-year-old politician said in Thursday's interview: "I have Jewish friends and there are Jews in my party… the Jews are divided in France according to their social status."

 

'No denial'

 

"I only said simply that the gas chambers did not constitute but a detail in the history of World War II"

Jean-Marie Le Pen, National Front leader

France's presidential hopefuls

Le Pen said that his comments in 1987 did not amount to a denial of the Holocaust.

 

"I did not deny the Holocaust," he told Maariv. "I only said simply that the gas chambers did not constitute but a detail in the history of World War II. It is not something that should provoke anger."

 

"The fact is that some Jews voted for me in 2002. They no doubt sense better than me the dangers that face our country because of the situation with security."

 

Le Pen is currently in fourth place ahead of the first-round vote on Sunday.

 

He became a force in French politics in 2002 when he qualified for the run-off vote against eventual winner Jacques Chirac, beating Lionel Jospin, the Socialist candidate.