EU corrects Ashton speech after Israeli anger

EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Asthon angered Israel because she appeared to have linked a French school shooting and Gaza. (Reuters)

The European Union issued Tuesday a corrected version of a speech by its foreign policy chief which had angered Israel because it appeared to link a French school shooting and Gaza.

The new transcript of Catherine Asthon’s remarks mentions the situation of children in both Gaza and the southern Israeli town of Sderot after the first version only mentioned the Palestinian territory.

After a day filled with criticism from Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a video of her speech Monday showed she indeed mentioned Sderot, a town often hit by Palestinian rocket attacks.

In her speech at a youth event, Ashton paid tribute to children killed in “terrible circumstances” and listed a number of tragedies including unrest in Syria, last year’s Norway massacre and the Toulouse shooting.

“When we see what is happening in Gaza and Sderot, in different parts of the world -- we remember young people and children who lose their lives.”

The phrase “and Sderot” had been missing from the first transcript of the speech given at the event in Brussels organized by the U.N. relief agency for Palestinian refugees (UNWRA).

The new text was released after a day of damage control, with her spokesman Michael Mann insisting that her remarks were “grossly distorted,” although he had not indicated at the time that she had talked about Sderot too.

“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,” he said.

Ashton “strongly condemns” the shooting that left three children and a teacher dead at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse on Monday, and extends her sympathies to their families, France and the Jewish community, he said.

Mann added that Ashton was making a “general remark” about violence against children around the world.

“She wanted to draw attention to the unfortunate fate of children around the world who lose their lives. Any indication or suggestion that there is a comparison or a parallel is incorrect,” he said.

EU officials contacted Israeli counterparts to clarify Ashton’s remarks, an EU diplomat said.

Before the new transcript was released, Netanyahu, his defense minister and his foreign minister all slammed the remarks.

“What especially outrages me is the comparison between a targeted massacre of children and the surgical defensive actions of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), intended to strike at terrorists using children as human shields,” Netanyahu said.


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