EU's Ashton: I did not parallel Toulouse attack to Gaza deaths
Statement by High Representative for Foreign Affairs comes following criticism by top Israeli officials, who called Ashton's earlier remarks 'inappropriate' and 'infuriating.'
The European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton denied Tuesday that she intended to parallel Monday's attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse, saying that he comments were "grossly distorted."
Ashton's remarks came amid backlash to comments she had made at a conference titled "Palestine Refugees in the changing Middle East" following the deadly shooting attack in the south of France.
Speaking at the event, the EU's foreign minister said all should remember the young people who have been killed in all sorts of terrible circumstances - the Belgian children having lost their lives in a terrible tragedy and when we think of what happened in Toulouse today, when we remember what happened in Norway a year ago, when we know what is happening in Syria, when we see what is happening in Gaza and in different parts of the world - we remember young people and children who lose their lives."
Ashton's comments, perceived as linking the attack in Toulouse and civilian deaths in Gaza, drew strong condemnation from Israeli officials.
Earlier Tuesday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman critisized the EU FM's comments, saying they were "inappropriate and I hope that Ashton reexamines and retracts them."
"Israel is the most moral country in the world, despite having to fight terrorists operating from within a civilian population. The IDF is doing everything it can to not hurt that population even though it is defending terrorists," Lieberman said.
The FM added that the "children Ashton needs to focus on are the children of south Israel, who live in constant fear of Gaza rocket attacks."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at the Technion Institute of Technology, called the Toulouse shooting the "cruel and tragic. To slaughter and eight-year-old girl and to make sure she died is inhuman savagery."
The premier also criticized Ashton's comments in the wake of the attack, saying that "what I was especially upset about was the comparison between the intentional slaughter of children and the IDF's surgical defensive strikes meant to hit terrorists who use children as a shield."
"There's no comparison between the two, and I'm sure you all felt the same," Netanyahu added.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak also criticized Ashton's remarks Tuesday, saying that the comparison she made was "infuriating and far from reality."
In a statement released later Tuesday, Ashton's office said she "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 wires," the statement added, saying Ashton "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."
Ashton's remarks were also discussed during a special session of the Knesset's Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, where Likued MK Danny Danon urged a French Jewish leader to have French President Nikola Sarkozy comment on "such an anti-Semitic comment from such a senior EU official."
Atzmaut MK Einat Wilf also referred to Ashton's comment, saying that it important to "clarify that who ever says such things isn't worthy of representing the European Union.