On Thursday, French police in Toulouse managed to corner and kill a serial-killer/terrorist who had murdered seven people over the past two weeks and wounded others, some gravely. The seven dead included three off-duty French soldiers and, on Monday, four French Jewish civilians—including three young children—at a Jewish school in Toulouse.
The killer is Mohammed Merah, a 24-year-old Frenchman of Algerian origin who claims to be an Al-Qaeda member. Merah had been in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan in 2007 he was arrested for bomb making, but escaped months later in a large-scale Taliban jailbreak.
As for his recent attacks, he told police negotiators they were motivated by the French army’s involvement in Afghanistan and by a desire to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children.
In that regard Merah’s words were remarkably similar to those of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Monday, the day of the school massacre. Speaking to a conference in Brussels called “Engaging Youth—Palestinian Refugees” that was sponsored by the Belgian government and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, she said:
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.
These words—clearly connoting that children in Gaza are brutally murdered by Israeli forces—sparked enraged responses in Israel, including from the prime minister, foreign minister, and opposition leader. On Tuesday, Ashton’s office issued a purported “clarification.” It stated that she had “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 problem, though, is that Ashton’s statement clearly did draw that parallel, and her “clarification” is a weak and unconvincing denial rather than a genuine retraction. Israeli officials reportedly—with justice—see it that way and remain “unwilling to forgive” her remarks. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had put it, “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.”
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