Bodies of Toulouse shooting victims arrive in Israel for burial
Jewish community leaders in France concede that privately funded guarding of schools had been reduced to lower costs; armed police, Jewish volunteer guards beef up protection around Jewish schools, synagogues.
The bodies of the four Jews who were shot and killed at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse on Monday were flown to Israel Tuesday and will be interred Wednesday in Jerusalem.
Relatives, students and teachers spent Tuesday morning and the previous night at the school, reading Psalms over the coffins of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, the two small coffins of his sons, Aryeh and Gabriel, and of Miriam Monsonego, the daughter of the school's principal, Rabbi Yaacov Monsonego.
The atmosphere was restrained, but there was a particularly difficult moment when Rabbi Sandler's wife, Eva Sandler, joined the group, and spoke quietly about her husband. "He gave his all to study," she said.
The family had come to France from Israel in July. Now Eva Sandler returns to Israel a young widow in the advanced stages of pregnancy and with a two-year-old daughter.
On Wednesday, French police besieged a house in Toulouse to try and arrest the prime suspect in the shooting, a 24-year old French citizen of Algerian descent with al-Qaida links.
Hundreds of police and intelligence personnel are involved in the high-profile investigation of the attack.
At Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris a memorial service was held in the presence of Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon before the caskets were placed aboard an El Al aircraft for the flight to Israel.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe will attend the funerals today.
Hundreds of people, including Christians and Muslims, continued Tuesday to stream to Jules Dalou Street to place flowers near the school and light candles.
Nasser Amin, who works for the national railway and arrived at the site on his bike to leave flowers, said: "I came to show solidarity. They were only children. While they are fighting over foolishness in the Middle East we in France have to remain united."
French political parties and presidential candidates officially suspended electioneering for 48 hours, although Sarkozy and his senior ministers continued to appear at memorial services and make aggressive speeches about the need to fight terror and increase security around educational institutions. Such appearances are seen as likely to help the president's flagging results in the polls.
Sarkozy also attended a memorial ceremony at school in Paris, near a monument for French citizens killed in the Holocaust, where he observed the moment of silence that was declared Tuesday throughout France at 11 A.M.
Among the senior ministers, military and police officials appearing at the ceremony at Gan Rashi - the Jewish elementary school in Toulouse where the three younger victims of the Ozar Hatorah shooting were students - was French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet. A week before the attack, Longuet had met with Jewish community leaders and spoken with them about the need for heightened awareness against attacks.
His remarks were an indirect response to earlier criticism by leaders of the Jewish community after the level of security was lowered around Jewish schools.
Jewish community leaders conceded Tuesday that the privately funded guarding of schools had been reduced to lower costs so more parents could be persuaded to enroll their children in Jewish schools.
Armed police and Jewish volunteer guards Tuesday beefed up protection around Toulouse's three Jewish schools and 12 synagogues.
Police were also stationed at Muslim schools.
Aryeh Ben-Simhon, president of the Toulouse Jewish community, said Tuesday : "The government must understand that Jews are always a target and I hope they will not reduce protection for the next two or three months. Clearly, everything they are saying now is connected to the current political situation."
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said guards had been posted at all schools in southwestern France and would remain deployed even after the killer was caught.
For the first time Tuesday, a red alert was issued in France - its highest level of readiness before a general emergency is declared.
In Paris the general prosecutor, Francois Moulins, announced at a press conference that the three neo-Nazi ex-soldiers detained had been questioned and released.
The police said they were still pursuing the neo-Nazi connection although other directions were also being investigated.
"This is a very determined man who plans his steps," Moulins said, addding that the police believe the same perpetrator is behind the school shootings and two other shooting incidents.
Gueant said school surveillance cameras show that the shooter was holding a video camera and may have recorded the attack to post on the Internet.
Gueant told French Jewish leaders in a closed conversation that the shooter was believed to be an extreme right-winger or a neo-Nazi and that Islamicists are not considered likely to have been involved because no claim of responsibility was issued.
Meanwhile, at a special meeting of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Tuesday, French Ambassador Kristoff Bigot spoke of French solidarity with its Jewish community. "We are all part of the school," he said.
Noting that campaigning had been suspended in France by mutual decision because "this is not a time for conflict," the ambassador also said: "The monstrous murderer is the same person who murdered three Muslim soldiers last week in the same area."
MK Danny Danon (Likud ) said at the committee meeting that he would work toward parliamentary legislation worldwide to impose the death penalty on murder in an anti-Semitic context.
Representatives of the French Jewish community told the committee that the French authorities had beefed up security around schools, which is usually funded by the community.
There has been no guard at Ozar Hatorah for the past 18 months, they said, due to budgetary constraints and because Toulouse is a quiet city.
Meyer Habib, deputy head of CRIF, the French Jewish community's umbrella organization, told the committee by phone that the incident at Ozar Hatorah was a first: "No children were ever killed at point-blank range at a school - not even during World War II when they took them away in trains."
Lea Marcou, 88, Jonathan Sandler's aunt, who lives in Jerusalem and was in daily contact with him before he left for France, said Tuesday that when she visited the family in France when Sandler was a boy, "he would say he wanted to come back with me." Sandler studied at the Ozar Hatorah boarding school in middle school, and remained in Toulouse for his university studies. During his first year, he was to have taken an exam on the Sabbath and he asked his tutor if he could postpone. "The teacher told him that if he wants to keep the commandments of his religion he should go to Israel, so he went," Marcou said.
Meanwhile, Israel's National Insurance Institute bowed to public pressure and Tuesday announced that the NII had reversed its decision not to pay for the transportation of Sandler's body and his burial in Israel on the grounds that he was not an Israeli citizen. Sandler's wife is Israeli, as are his children who were killed in the shooting.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin praised NII director Esther Dominicini for the decision at Tuesday's Knesset session, saying that it had saved the State of Israel from "quite a shame."