Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, (Photo: Reuters).
Israeli officials on Tuesday condemned remarks by the EU foreign policy chief, accusing her of drawing an inappropriate comparison between a shooting in France and the situation of children in Gaza.
Catherine Ashton strongly denied that her comments, which paid tribute to children "who have been killed in all sorts of terrible circumstances," were intended to draw a parallel between the attack and the situation in Gaza.
But her clarification failed to stem Israeli anger at all levels of the government, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, among others, expressing outrage.
"The tragedy and ruthlessness in this act are striking; barbarity and inhumanity that is indescribable," Netanyahu said, referring to Monday's deadly shooting at a Jewish school in the southwestern French city of Toulouse.
"What especially outrages me is the comparison between a targeted massacre of children and the surgical defensive actions of the IDF (Israel Defence Forces), intended to strike at terrorists using children as human shields," he added in comments released after Ashton's later statement.
The EU official's initial remarks were made at an event for young Palestinian refugees on Monday, shortly after the Toulouse attack, which killed a French rabbi and three children with joint French and Israeli nationality.
She paid tribute to children "who have been killed in all sorts of terrible circumstances," making reference to a fatal coach crash in Switzerland, last year's massacre in Norway, unrest in Syria, the Toulouse shooting and "what is happening in Gaza and in different parts of the world."
Israeli officials said those comments drew a parallel between the situation in Gaza and the shooting attack, and called for a retraction.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Ashton's comments "were not appropriate and he expressed the hope that she would re-examine and reverse them," his office said.
Lieberman said there could be no comparison between the Toulouse shooting and the situation in Gaza.
"The minister affirmed that Israel is the most moral country in the world even as it is forced to fight against terrorists who act from within a civilian population," the statement said.
"The Israeli army does everything possible to avoid harm to that population, even though it supports terrorists," it added.
"The children Ashton should be talking about are those in the south of Israel who live in fear after the rocket attacks coming from the Gaza Strip."
Defence Minister Ehud Barak called Ashton's remarks "outrageous."
"The comparison made by Ashton between what is happening in Gaza to what happened in Toulouse, and what is going on in Syria every day, is outrageous and has absolutely no grounding in reality." he said.
"The Israeli military operates in Gaza with great care and precision in order to protect the lives of innocents. I hope that Catherine Ashton quickly realises her mistake and rethinks her comments."
In a statement released on Tuesday afternoon, Ashton said her words had been "grossly distorted."
The statement said Ashton "strongly condemns the killings at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse yesterday and extends her sympathies to the families and friends of the victims and to the people of France and the Jewish community".
"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," it said.
Israeli member of parliament Danny Danon, who had strongly condemned Ashton's initial statement, welcomed her clarification.
"I hope that such statements will not repeat themselves in the future. These types of comparisons are uncalled for and even dangerous," he said.