Sarkozy calls for national unity after shootings

JERUSALEM Wed Mar 21, 2012 7:25am EDT

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy delivers his speech about the localisation of the Toulouse gunman at the Elysee Palace in Paris March 21, 2012. Sarkozy said on Wednesday that France should not give in to a desire for revenge or discrimination over the killings of a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse. REUTERS/Francois Mori/Pool

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy delivers his speech about the localisation of the Toulouse gunman at the Elysee Palace in Paris March 21, 2012. Sarkozy said on Wednesday that France should not give in to a desire for revenge or discrimination over the killings of a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse.

Credit: Reuters/Francois Mori/Pool

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The European Union foreign policy chief drew criticism in Israel on Tuesday over what Israeli leaders said was her comparison of the killing of four Jews at a school in France with the deaths of children in the Gaza Strip.

Speaking at a conference on Palestinian refugees on Monday in Brussels, Catherine Ashton cited the tragedy of "young people who have been killed in all sorts of terrible circumstances".

She then mentioned the Toulouse shooting earlier on Monday, along with a massacre last year in a Norway summer camp, a bus crash in Switzerland that killed 22 Belgian school children a week ago, the current violence in Syria and "what is happening in Gaza and in different parts of the world".

Israeli leaders seized on her original remarks as an attempt to compare the events in Toulouse to those in the Gaza Strip, where children have at times been among the casualties of Israeli attacks on Palestinian militants operating in civilian areas.

Ashton later denied she had drawn any such parallel.

"What gets me especially incensed is the comparison between the targeted slaughter of children and the surgical, defensive activities of the (Israel Defense Forces) that are meant to hit terrorists who use children for human shields," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the grouping of Gaza violence with the Toulouse shooting and the fighting in Syria was "infuriating and detached from reality".

Ashton's spokesperson issued a statement on Tuesday condemning the killings at the Jewish school.

"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 statement said.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Ori Lewis; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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