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Netanyahu, Hollande show support for French Jews

PARIS - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Francois Hollande on Thursday commemorated the four victims of a Jewish school shooting in Toulouse at a memorial ceremony cloaked in concern over mounting anti-Semitism.

The leaders' joint visit to Ohr Torah school, where an Islamist gunman shot to death a rabbi, his two sons and the principal's daughter, was hailed by the Jewish community as sending a strong message of French determination to fight the threat to Jews from radical Islamists.

The March attack by Mohamed Merah, who also killed three soldiers before being shot to death by police in a raid on his flat, was the worst attack on Jews in France in 30 years.

Hollande promised the victims' relatives, community members and officials present at the ceremony in the school gym he would be "relentless" against anti-Semitic acts and remarks, including on social networks.

"French Jews must know that the Republic will do everything to protect them," he said, calling their safety a "national cause".

Hollande also promised full transparency on what he called intelligence "deficiencies" over Merah, who slipped under the antiterrorism radar despite having traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan for training.

Netanyahu praised the "determined" stance of the Socialist leader, whom he called a "friend."

The Israeli premier, who is gearing up for elections in January, also used the platform to send a thinly veiled warning to Iran.

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Every generation brings someone "who wants to destroy us," he said.

But the Jewish people now had their own state, their own army and the means to defend themselves against those "who want to wipe us off the map," he said, leading the service in chants of "The people of Israel live."

Merah's attack and a September grenade attack on a kosher grocery store in Paris have sparked fears that groups of homegrown Islamist radicals have Jews in their sights.

Samuel Sandler, father of Gabriel Sandler, the rabbi shot to death by Merah along with his two sons, drew a line between the attack and the deportation of Jewish children from France during World War II.

"I thought that in the 21st century in France it was unthinkable to kill children, Jewish children," he said.

School principal Yaacov Monsonego, whose 8-year-old daughter was killed, said he was haunted by the image of that "black Monday" when he "let go little Myriam's hand and two minutes later she was coldly executed, simply because she was Jewish."

The ceremony was the climax of Netanyahu's two-day visit to France, which was aimed at cementing ties with the country's new Socialist leadership.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu and Hollande held talks on Iran's nuclear program, the deadlocked Middle East peace process and Syria.

Netanyahu praised France's "strong position" in pushing for tough sanctions against Iran but complained that, while the sanctions were "taking a bite out of Iran's economy" they had "not to date stopped the Iranian program".

Hollande, meanwhile, called for an "unconditional" resumption of the Israel-Palestinian peace talks.

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