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Israel mourns Jews slain in Paris attack

13 January 2015, 14:53

Jerusalem - Thousands of mourners gathered at a Jerusalem cemetery Tuesday for the funeral of four Jews killed by an Islamist gunman in Paris in an attack that shook the Jewish community.

The bodies of the victims were flown to Israel for burial following the assault Friday on a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris.

They were among 17 people gunned down in Paris during three days of bloodshed that began with a grisly attack on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, in a wave of violence that convulsed France and sent shock waves through its Jewish community, the third-largest in the world.

The four Jews are to be laid to rest after the joint funeral at the sprawling Givat Shaul cemetery which began shortly after 1000 GMT, attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin as well as a host of other senior officials.

Rivlin said at the ceremony it was unacceptable that Jews were living in fear in Europe.

"We cannot allow that in 2015, 70 years since the end of World War II, Jews are afraid to walk in the streets of Europe with skullcaps and tzitzit," he said of the traditional headcovering and prayer garments worn by religious Jews.

French Ecology Minister Segolene Royal, the French government's number three, is representing Paris at the funeral.

Across the city, French flags were flying alongside signs reading: "Jerusalem is with the French people, we are all Charlie".

The attack on the supermarket, which killed Yoav Hattab, 22, Philippe Braham, 45, Yohan Cohen, 23, and Francois-Michel Saada, 64, has left the Jewish community in both France and Israel badly shaken.

Gary Buchwald, a friend of the Saada family who flew in from Paris with the families early Tuesday on the same plane as the bodies, told AFP the impact of the attack was devastating.

"His wife is in pieces. They had to literally carry her to the plane. I am in shock like all of the French community in France," he said.

"She won't get over this. It is not three million people marching in the street who will change this reality: other attacks will happen," he said.

"We only have two choices: either we fight back or we run."

For many Israelis, the killings were further evidence that France is becoming hostile territory for Jews and proof that the authorities there are unable to protect them.

Officials said the violence would likely trigger a surge in French immigration to Israel, which already hit a record high last year.

The four men were in the supermarket shortly before the start of the Jewish sabbath when it was attacked by Islamist gunman Amedy Coulibaly.

Coulibaly, who was killed by police, had links to the two Islamic extremists who killed 12 people at Charlie Hebdo two days earlier.

Netanyahu said Sunday that he had agreed to a request from the families that the four victims be buried in Jerusalem.

After the plane carrying the victims landed in Israel just after 0230 GMT, the body of Hattab, a Tunisian national, was taken to a seminary near Tel Aviv where he was eulogised by Rabbi Meir Mazuz, the spiritual leader of Tunisian Jewry, at the request of the family.

As the cemetery began filling up on a sunny but freezing winter morning, the atmosphere was one of shock, sorrow and a sense that the threats facing Jews in France were not yet over.

"The grief is profound, the families are broken," top French Jewish official Joel Merghi told AFP.

"The Jewish community has survived (other attacks) many times in history but it will be very difficult to recover this time," he said.

Other dignitaries expected to attend the funeral include opposition leader Isaac Herzog and members of Israel's French-speaking community.

For many, the supermarket attack brought back memories of an attack in the southern French city of Toulouse in March 2012 when Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah killed three young children and a teacher at a Jewish school.

They were buried in the same Jerusalem cemetery where the victims from the Paris shooting will be laid to rest.

The fresh violence has shaken the Jewish community in France, which numbers 500,000 to 600,000 people.

French migration to Israel hit a record high last year of 6,600 people, and many believe the trend will accelerate after the Paris slayings.

Netanyahu was quick to reach out to French Jews after the attack, telling them that Israel was their "home."

France has sought to reassure its Jewish community, pledging to deploy nearly 5,000 police and security forces to protect the 700 Jewish schools across the country and to boost security at other Jewish institutions.

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