Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Reuters)
Israel on Sunday blamed rising anti-Semitism for a Brussels shooting attack which killed three people, including two Israelis, lashing out at Europe for "hypocrisy" in its attitude to the Jewish state.
As officials confirmed the deaths of two Israelis and a French national in Saturday's attack on the Jewish museum in the Belgian capital, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to hail the visiting Pope Francis for his "determined stance" against anti-Semitism.
"We appreciate the pope's determined stance against anti-Semitism, especially in light of the growing hatred of Jews that we are witness to in these days," Netanyahu said, hours ahead of the pontiff's arrival in Israel as part of a three-day Middle East tour.
The afternoon shooting shocked Belgium and drew condemnation from top European leaders, although Brussels said it could not immediately confirm whether it was "a terrorist or anti-Semitic act".
But Netanyahu said the attack was a result of "incessant incitement against Israel by different elements in the Middle East and Europe itself," denouncing the latter for what he said was a hypocritical attitude to Israel.
"There are elements in Europe that rush to condemn the construction of a flat in Jerusalem but who do not rush to condemn, or offer only a weak condemnation of the murder of Jews here or in Europe itself," he said, referring to Israel's ongoing settlement construction in the West Bank and in annexed east Jerusalem.
"Even worse, they applaud unity with terror groups like Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel," he said.
The rightwing premier was referring to Europe's welcome of an intra-Palestinian reconciliation agreement between leaders in the West Bank and the Islamist rulers of Gaza.
"We oppose this hypocrisy, we defy it," he said.
However, he praised Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, who telephoned to express condolences and update the Israeli leader on the investigation.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked the Belgian prime minister for his call and offered to help with the murder enquiry," his office said.
"Until now, you are the only European leader to call me about this matter," Netanyahu told Di Rupo.
Earlier, foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP the two victims were a married couple in their 50s from Tel Aviv who were touring in Belgium.
"We have confidence in the Belgian authorities, in the justice system and the police to look into this horrible crime," he said.
The attack, which took place in central Brussels, left a fourth person, whose identity was not yet clear, in critical condition.
President Shimon Peres also called upon European leaders to act against "any form of anti-Semitism" which he said was "rearing its head across the continent".
He also spoke with the Jewish leadership in Belgium.
It was the first fatal attack on a Belgian Jewish centre since the early 1980s in a country which is home to 40,000 Jews, roughly half of whom live in the capital.