Lieberman: Ashton's Comparison of Toulouse Attack to Gaza Deaths 'Inappropriate'

In event honoring Palestinian refugees, EU foreign minister draws link between killing of French rabbi and Jewish schoolchildren, Gaza civilian deaths and Assad's crackdown on Syria unrest.

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Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

The European Union's foreign minister must retract an "inappropriate" comparison between an attack on a French Jewish school on Monday and civilian deaths in the Gaza Strip, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Tuesday.

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Police officers and firefighters gather at the site of a shooting in Toulouse, southwestern France, Monday, March 19, 2012.Credit: AP

On Monday, Jewish institutions around the world stepped up security after a gunman killed four people - three of them children - at a Jewish school in the southwestern French city of Toulouse.

Initial ballistic investigations suggest that the gun used in Monday morning's attack was the same gun used to murder two French paratroopers last week, and was apparently used in a similar way.

Later that day, European Union Foreign Affairs Chief Catherine Ashton caused a stir after she apparently drew a link between the Toulouse attack earlier in the day, the killing of civilians in the Gaza Strip, as well as to the Norway killing spree late last years.

Speaking at conference titled "Palestine Refugees in the changing Middle East" in Brussels, Ashton spoke of the role of youth in Palestine, who, she said: "Against all the odds, they continue to learn, to work, to dream and aspire to a better future."

The top EU official then added: "And the days when we remember 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."

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, left, shakes hands with foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman before a meeting in Jerusalem, Friday, June 17, 2011.Credit: AP

Responding to Ashton's comments on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, on an official visit to China, said the EU FM's comments 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."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak also criticized Ashton's remarks later Tuesday, saying that the comparison she made was "infuriating and far from reality."

"The IDF is operating in Gaza with the utmost caution in order to prevent injury to innocent people. I hope the European Union's foreign minister quickly understands her mistake and retracts her statements."

Also responding to the comments Tuesday, Kadima chairperson and opposition leader Tzipi Livni said that Ashton's comparison "between the murder of children in Toulouse and the massacre [Syrian President Bashar] Assad is leading in Syria, and the situation in Gaza is reprehensible, infuriating, and wrong."

"A hate crime or a leader murdering his people is not like a country fighting terror, even if civilians are hurt," Livni said, adding that Ashton's comment "represents the misconception in the world concerning the State of Israel and the current leadership's inability to create the appropriate moral distinction."



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