EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton 390 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kimmo Mantyla/Lehtikuva)
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Tuesday that her remarks Monday referring to the attack in Toulouse were "grossly distorted" by a news wire service.
A statement released by Ashton's bureau said she "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, the statement added, "strongly condemns the killings at the Ozar Hatorah school" and extended her sympathies to the families and friends of the victims, as well as to the people of France and the Jewish community.
The EU foreign policy chief came under heavy criticism from Israeli officials Tuesday in response to a report on her remarks. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and opposition leader Tzipi Livni all called on Ashton to retract the statement attributed to her.
In the contentious remark, originally reported by Agence France Presse Monday night and later verified by an official EU printout of Ashton's speech, she told a group of Palestinian youth in Brussels: "When we think about what happened today in Toulouse, we remember what happened in Norway a year ago, when we know what is happening in Syria, and we see what is happening in Gaza and in different parts of the world - we remember young people and children who lose their lives."
The statement was originally presented in news reports as an equation between the murder of three Jewish schoolchildren in France and Palestinian deaths in the Gaza Strip.
Speaking during a visit to China, Liberman said that the comparison was inappropriate and that he hopes that she retracts her statement. The children Ashton should be talking about, he continued, "are the ones in southern Israel who live in constant fear of rocket attacks [launched against] them from Gaza."