Photo Credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90
EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton visits a UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) warehouse in the Jabaliya refugee camp, in the Gaza Strip.

The European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton insisted that comments she made on Monday, which appeared to equate Monday’s brutal murder in Toulouse with the killings in Syria and Israeli measures against attacks from Gaza, were “grossly distorted.”

Her statement came in response to the mounting outrage over her comments at a conference titled “Palestine Refugees in the changing Middle East” following the shooting attack in the southern France. Ashton is reported to have said: “When we think about what happened today in Toulouse, we remember what happened in Norway last year, we know what is happening in Syria, and we see what is happening in Gaza and other places – we remember young people and children who lose their lives.”

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A statement released Tuesday by Ashton’s office said: “In her remarks, the High Representative 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…The High Representative strongly condemns the killings at the Ozar Hatorah school and extends her sympathies to the families and friends of the victims and to the people of France and the Jewish community.”

“We want to make this clear,” the statement continued, “because her words yesterday at the UNRWA event were grossly distorted by one of the wires.” Still, Ashton stopped short of issuing an apology or retraction.

Ashton was castigated for her remarks by officials from across Israel’s political spectrum. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lambasted Ashton, saying that it was absurd to compare the “intentional massacre of children and an execution-style killing of an 8-year-old with the IDF’s defensive and surgical actions meant to harm terrorists who use children as human shields.”

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni said that “[t]his comparison is invalid, outrageous and incorrect. The demand for her to take back her words is correct.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak also condemned Ashton’s remarks as “outrageous,” as did Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who demanded an apology from the EU Foreign Affairs chief.

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