Washington, March 20 —The European Union's Catherine Ashton backpedaled furiously today following her callous remarks about the murder of three children and a teacher at a Jewish school yesterday in Toulouse, France.
In the deadly attack, an unidentified gunman opened fire as students were being dropped off for school and then fled the scene. French media outlets reported later in the day that police sought three neo-Nazi ex-paratroopers in connection with the shooting.
As French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid homage to the dead and world and religious leaders condemned the attack and offered their sympathies yesterday, the EU’s foreign policy chief compared the shooting to children who are killed in Gaza: “When we think about what happened today in Toulouse, we remember what happened in Norway last year, we know what is happening in Syria, and we see what is happening in Gaza and other places," Ashton said during a meeting of Palestinian youths in Brussels.
A day later, she said her comments were distorted and her office issued a statement that: "The High Representative strongly condemns the killings at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse yesterday and extends her sympathies to the families and friends of the victims and to the people of France and the Jewish community.
“We want to make this clear, because her words yesterday at the UNRWA event were grossly distorted by one of the news agencies,” according to the statement. “In her remarks, the High Representative referred to tragedies taking the lives of children around the world and drew no parallel whatsoever between the circumstances of the Toulouse attack and the situation in Gaza.”
The gunman’s victims were identified as school teacher Yonatan Sandler, 30; his sons Aryeh, 3 and Gavriel, 6; and 8-year-old Miriam Monsonego, daughter of the school principal. They were flown to Israel for burial. A teenage student remains in critical condition at a local hospital.
The southern city of Toulouse is home to 20,000 Jews; France’s total Jewish population is about 600,000. The local TLT television station reported that the gunman had to have gone out of his way to target the Ozar Hatorah school, located on a quiet side street with no sign. For a long time, the Jewish community in Toulouse has taken security steps to protect educational institutions by keeping them anonymous.