A Jewish school targeted by a radical Islamist in the south of France is welcoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and paying homage to victims of the March attack, France’s worst terrorist violence since the 1990s.Netanyahu and French President Francois Hollande are in Toulouse on Thursday at the school where three children and a young rabbi were shot to death by 23-year-old Frenchman Mohamed Merah.
Merah also killed three French paratroopers and later died in a shootout with police.
France has struggled with anti-Semitic attacks in the months since.
Hollande, after meeting Netanyahu in Paris on Wednesday, said the visit to the school was a way to demonstrate France’s determination to fight hatred toward Jews.
“There is anti-Semitism, we must chase it down, pursue it, eradicate it,” Hollande said. “When a citizen, because he is Jewish, sees his security threatened, it is the whole nation that is attacked.”
Netanyahu, while expressing horror at the Toulouse attacks, said Wednesday, “it goes without saying that successive French governments have fought very clearly against anti-Semitism.”
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The March 19 attack on the Toulouse school, then called Ozar Hatorah but since renamed Ohr Tora, stunned France with its calculated brutality against unsuspecting schoolchildren heading to class on a Monday morning.
Merah entered the school and fired directly at children. He chased down 8-year-old Miriam Monsonego, grabbed her and shot her in the head.
A father and two of his children were also killed: Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, and his sons 4-year-old Gabriel and 5-year-old Arieh.
The victims had joint French and Israeli citizenship, and were buried in Israel.
The attacks raised questions about France’s counterterrorism efforts, after authorities acknowledged that Merah had been under surveillance
and traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan for apparent militant training.
Since March, French officials and France’s Jewish community have been on alert.
Thursday’s tribute came the day after a radical Muslim preacher was expelled from France because of his anti-Semitic speeches, calls for violent holy war and defense of violence toward women. The Interior Ministry said Mohamed Hammami of the Omar Mosque in Paris was expelled to his native Tunisia for his “deliberate, repeated and unacceptable provocations,” which constitute a threat to France’s society and security.
Earlier this month, the government said it dismantled a network of French-born Islamists bent on targeting Jews, after a firebomb attack on a Jewish grocery.
In addition to Europe’s largest Jewish community, France has a large Muslim population, and Mideast politics often prompt public debate here. Groups of pro-Palestinian protesters gathered in Paris and Toulouse on Wednesday night, criticizing Netanyahu’s policies toward Palestinians.