A shocked Israel prepared on Tuesday to receive the bodies of four Jews killed in an attack in Toulouse, and urged French authorities to act quickly to arrest the perpetrator of the murders.
A day after the shooting, which left three children and a teacher dead at a Jewish school, Israeli commentators also warned of the growing spectre of anti-Semitism in Europe, and politicians held a special hearing on the attack.
The bodies of the four victims were expected to leave France for Israel on Tuesday evening, on an El Al flight bound for Tel Aviv.
The Israeli embassy in Paris said the three children killed in the attack had joint French and Israeli nationality, while the Israeli interior ministry said the adult victim was French but had the right to permanent residency in Israel.
The families of the four victims have asked that they be buried in the Jewish state, the Israeli foreign ministry said.
Israeli leaders were at pains to express confidence in the French authorities on Tuesday, although the suspect in the attack — who is believed to have carried out two other shootings in recent days — has not been arrested.
“We have total confidence that the French authorities will find the perpetrator of these murders,” foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP, adding that Israelis were “very moved” by protests against the attack in France.
France launched a massive manhunt for the killer on Tuesday and declared a terror alert across the southwest.
The killer’s first target was a paratrooper of North African origin, shot dead in Toulouse on March 11.
Four days later, the killer shot dead two more soldiers of North African origin in the nearby garrison town of Montauban, also seriously wounding a soldier from the Caribbean.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was planning to call French President Nicolas Sarkozy to “discuss the investigation,” his spokesman Ofir Gendelman said.
“We are waiting for the results of the inquiry. Israel is ready to to help, but the investigation is taking place in France under French sovereignty,” he added.
The immigration and diaspora committee of the Israeli parliament met in special session to discuss the attack.
The committee’s chairman, Danny Danon, has called the attack “a warning to the entire Jewish people,” and urged the international community to “act immediately to combat the increase in anti-Semitic attacks that we have been witness to over the past few years.”
France’s ambassador to Israel, Christophe Bigot, addressed the committee hearing, which began with a moment of silence for the victims of the attack.
“It was a real shock,” he said, noting that Sarkozy and other top-ranking officials had flocked to the scene of the shooting “to express their disgust and their solidarity.”
Bigot said the attack “was more than a monstrous crime against children. It was also a crime against the values of human rights and democracy.”
Israeli media gave extensive coverage to the attack, and commentators said it raised the spectre of growing anti-Semitism in Europe.
“The attack in Toulouse will undoubtedly add to European Jews’ feeling of vulnerability,” the Jerusalem Post wrote in an editorial headlined: “Protecting France’s Jews.”
The English-language daily said that since late 2000, France’s Jewish community had “been exposed to the most extensive outbreak of anti-Semitic violence since the Holocaust.”
Writing in left-leaning Haaretz, commentator Sefy Hendler said the attack evoked memories of what had happened in occupied France during World War II.
“Many thought that after the Holocaust and the Nazi occupation, French children would never again be murdered in cold blood because of their religion,” he wrote. “But that’s just what appears to have happened.”