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During a visit yesterday, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire compared Israel's reported nuclear arsenal to Hitler's gas chambers, while calling for travel restrictions to be lifted on nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu.

Maguire, awarded the 1976 prize for her Northern Ireland peace campaign, was at the prison gates to welcome Vanunu when he was released in April after serving an 18-year sentence for disclosing Israel's nuclear secrets.

"I've been to Auschwitz concentration camp," Maguire said. "Nuclear weapons are only gas chambers perfected ... and for a people who know what gas chambers are, how can you even think of building perfect gas chambers?"

Foreign Ministry officials were unavailable for comment.

Officially, Israel follows a policy of nuclear ambiguity, neither confirming nor denying whether it has nuclear arms.

Since being freed from prison, Vanunu has been under rigid restrictions barring him from traveling abroad or speaking to foreigners - a prohibition he regularly flouts.

At a news conference yesterday, he said he had become estranged from his biological family and wanted to spend Christmas in St. Paul, Minnesota with his adoptive parents, peace activists Nick and Mary Eoloff.

"I, as a Christian, am demanding from Israel - let me go and celebrate Christmas with my family and my friends around the world," he said. "They should give me my total freedom. I suffered 18 years in isolation in prison, they should not continue to punish me."