REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Both Israeli and Palestinian officials on Wednesday rejected attempts to link shootings at a Jewish school in France to the Mideast conflict.
A suspect in Monday’s attack, who was holed up in a house surrounded by police in the city of Toulouse in southwest France, told French negotiators early Wednesday that he was part of an Al Qaeda-affiliated group that was seeking to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children.
The shooting attack killed three Jewish children and a rabbi. All four were buried Wednesday at an emotional ceremony in Israel that drew thousands of mourners.
Police suspect the assailant was also responsible for killing an off-duty French paratrooper in Toulouse on March 11 and two uniformed paratroopers in the nearby town of Montauban last Thursday. The slain soldiers were all of North African origin and believed to be Muslim.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned Monday's attack and dismissed the suspect’s attempt to link the crime to the cause of Palestinian statehood.
“It is time for those criminals to stop exploiting the name of Palestine through their terrorist actions or claim victory to the rights of Palestinian children, who only seek a decent life for themselves and all children of the world,” Fayyad said.
At a cemetery service on the slopes of western Jerusalem, Israel Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said there was no defense for killing children.
“Those seeking justification for this hatred shall find none," he said before an audience that included many of the victims’ relatives. “There never was, nor will there be, reason for acts of terror against Jews anywhere.”
Before a meeting with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who accompanied the bodies to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the world to fight anti-Semitism and terrorism.
“We must fight this extraordinary propaganda against Israelis and Jews everywhere, against innocents, which leads these people to perpetrate such barbaric acts," he said.
Some of the funeral speeches included political overtones, urging French Jews to leave France and immigrate to Israel. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat spoke of the need to continue building Jewish housing in Jerusalem, including areas that Palestinians want to use as the capital of their state.
-- Edmund Sanders
Photo: Friends and family members gather around the bodies of the victims of Monday's shooting in Toulouse, France, during their funeral at a cemetery in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Credit: Sebastian Scheiner / Associated Press