Last updated: 21 March, 2012

Israel begins burying victims of France shootings

Thousands of weeping mourners attended the funerals at a Jerusalem cemetery on Wednesday of three French-Israeli children and a teacher killed in a shooting spree at a Jewish school in France.

Among the 2,000 or so people gathered at the sprawling Givat Shaul cemetery on the western outskirts of Jerusalem were French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and some 50 relatives and family friends, who landed in Israel shortly after dawn.

Four coffins containing the bodies of 30-year-old teacher Jonathan Sandler, his sons Arieh, 5, and Gabriel, 4, and seven-year-old Myriam Monsonego, were flown from Toulouse to Paris on Tuesday before continuing to Israel, where the two bereaved families had asked that their loved ones be buried.

At the cemetery, mourners gathered around the four bodies — those of the teacher and his two sons wrapped in a white prayer shawl, while the girl’s body was wrapped in a blue shroud embroidered with gold.

All four were shot dead early on Monday morning when a gunman, believed to be an Islamic extremist, opened fire on parents and children at Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, in what was the third such shooting in the area in eight days.

As a rabbi intoned verses from the Book of Psalms, Myriam’s distraught parents were inconsolable as they stood before her shrouded body. Eva Sandler meanwhile wept over her dead husband and two young sons.

Both families were supported by friends and relatives, an AFP correspondent said.

“He who looks for a justification for hatred, needs to know that there is no explanation for hatred,” said parliamentary speaker Reuven Rivlin in a brief address to the mourners.

“There is no explanation for the murder of many pupils in Toulouse,” he said. “There is not, and there will never be any explanation for acts of terror against Jews wherever such things happen.”

Speaking shortly before the funerals, Juppe said the Toulouse attack had bound Israel and France together.

“In some ways, it was the blood of our two countries that flowed on Monday at the Ozar Hatorah school,” he told reporters after meeting Israeli President Shimon Peres, saying he had come “to share in the grief of the Monsonego and Sandler families.”

France has launched a massive manhunt for the gunman behind Monday’s attack on the school, with the killer believed to be responsible for two other deadly shootings which left three soldiers dead in the same area.

As the plane headed for Israel, elite French police mounted a pre-dawn raid on a property in Toulouse where a 24-year-old man claiming to be linked to Al-Qaeda was holed up inside a building, sources close to the investigation told AFP.

French police named the suspect as Mohammed Merah and said he was of Algerian origin.

The suspect told officers he wanted to avenge Palestinian children killed in the conflict with Israel and to attack the French army, France’s Interior Minister Claude Gueant said.

Monday’s bloody assault sparked horrified denunciations from across France and around the world, particularly in Israel, and prompted police to impose an unprecedented terror alert in the southwest as they sought the killer.

French investigators believe the gunman also killed three soldiers in two other attacks last week.

The soldiers were French citizens of North African origin, while another who was critically wounded in the attack was black and from the French West Indies.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon hailed the ongoing police operation unfolding in Toulouse and thanked Juppe for France’s “urgent action to find the assailants and bring them to justice.”

“Today, all Israel is in pain and mourning over the deaths of innocent children and a dedicated father,” he said after greeting the minister and the families of the dead as they landed in Israel.

The school shootings sparked a wave of revulsion across the world, particularly in Israel, where many commentators expressed concern over the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.