Peres meets French imams a year after Toulouse killings

Israeli President Shimon Peres has met a delegation of French imams working to improve relations between Muslim and Jewish communities, on the eve of the anniversary of a series of killings in Toulouse whose victims included Jewish children.


Israeli President Shimon Peres on Sunday met 20 French imams in Paris, on the eve of the first anniversary of a series of killings in and around Toulouse in southwest France, whose victims included three young Jewish children.

Many of the assembled imams visited Israel and the Palestinian territories last year follwing the murders committed by French citizen Mohamed Merah, who shot dead three Muslim soldiers serving in the French army, a Jewish teacher and three children between 11 and 19 March, 2012.

“Toulouse was a turning point,” Peres told the assembled religious leaders at a Paris hotel. “The man who committed the killings showed the most hideous face of this crime.”

Hassen Chalgoumi, the imam of the Drancy Mosque near Paris and France’s most vociferous campaigner for better relations between the Jewish and Muslim communities, led the French delegation.

“The eve of these terrible murders marks a difficult time for us all,” he told Peres, stressing that Merah had “killed Muslims before killing Jews.”

“Our everyday battle is against fundamentalism and violence,” he said, adding that the French Muslim community was “the first and foremost victim of fundamentalism. For French imams, human life is more important than Mecca.”

France has Europe’s biggest Muslim population, of around five million. Chalgoumi said that this community was not responsible for importing terrorism to the country, but conceded that its “duty is to be an exporter of peace.”

Following the meeting, Peres praised the imams, saying he was “impressed by their courage” for having visited Israel in 2012 and for daring to denounce crimes that had been committed not only against Jews, but against their own community.

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