Jewish victims in French shooting buried in Israel

March 21, 2012 - 10:56 AM
APTOPIX Mideast Israel France

Israeli burial officials prepare the bodies of Toulouse shooting victims for their funeral after they arrived to Israel, at a morgue in Jerusalem, Wednesday, March. 21, 2012. The three children and a rabbi were gunned down on Monday in the deadliest school shooting France has ever known and the bloodiest attack on Jewish targets in decades. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

JERUSALEM (AP) — A rabbi and three children gunned down at a Jewish school in France were buried Wednesday in a Jerusalem cemetery, with a bereaved mother and wife begging her slain loved ones to "come back home."

The four were killed Monday in the French city of Toulouse when a man on a motorcycle opened fire with two handguns outside the school. Hundreds of French police descended on the hideout of the suspect — a Frenchman of Algerian descent — in Toulouse on Wednesday, but by midday still hadn't drawn him out after hours of gunbattles and negotiations.

The bodies of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his sons Arieh, 5, and Gabriel, 3, and 8-year-old Myriam Monsenego were flown to Israel early Wednesday. The families had asked for burial in Israel; the children held dual Israeli-French citizenship and the rabbi had lived in Israel for years.

At the funeral ceremony, Myriam's eldest brother, Avishai, in his 20s, wailed and called to God to give his parents the strength "to endure the worst trial that can be endured."

In the name of the four remaining Monsenego children, he urged his father and mother to "keep going, keep going, keep going."

Hundreds of mourners, many of them sobbing, thronged around the bodies laid out on stretchers as eulogies were delivered. The slain members of the Sandler family had been wrapped in white prayer shawls while Myriam had been draped in black velvet.

Mourners then walked to the burial grounds. Men carried the bodies on stretchers and buried them, while women watched from behind a nearby fence.

Later, Eva Sandler, the widow of the slain rabbi, walked to the freshly covered graves of her sons and husband and laid her hands on them. "Come back home," she cried out in French.

Israeli media reported that Sandler is pregnant and had arrived in Israel with her remaining child, a toddler.

Among the mourners were grieving relatives who arrived from France, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and leaders of the French Jewish community.

"We must fight this extraordinary propaganda against Israel and Jews everywhere, against innocents, which leads these people to perpetrate such barbaric acts," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Juppe.

Juppe said France was committed to fighting such terrorism. "It's a threat for you, it's a threat for us and I think for the world," he said.

In his eulogy, Israeli parliament speaker Reuven Rivlin said the Jewish people "once again find themselves facing beasts ... driven out of their minds by hatred."

Juppe said "an attack on a Jew in France is not only an issue for French Jews. ... Anti-Semitism is against all French values."

The school attack was the bloodiest France has ever known and the bloodiest assault on Jewish targets there in decades.

Meanwhile, hundreds of French police on Wednesday surrounded the Toulouse hideout of a man suspected in the school shooting and two earlier attacks that killed three French paratroops. A gunbattle erupted and police were trying to negotiate the man's surrender.

French Interior Minister Claude Gueant described the suspect as a 24-year-old French national who claims connections to al-Qaida and "wants to take revenge for Palestinian children" killed in the Middle East.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad denounced the deadly shooting attack and condemned the link to Palestinian children.

"It's time for criminals to stop using the Palestinian cause to justify their terrorist actions," Fayyad said in a statement. "The children of Palestine want nothing but dignified lives for themselves and for all the children in the world."