Belgium Prime Minister Di Ruppo calls Netanyahu to express shock over attack that killed three people, including an Israeli couple.
Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo called his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, on Sunday to brief him on the details of the investigation into the deadly shooting that took the lives of three people outside of the Jewish Museum the night before.
Two of the fatalities were Israeli citizens, a couple in their 50s from Tel Aviv. The third fatality was a French national who volunteered at the museum. A fourth victim, a Belgian citizen in his 20s employed by the museum, was critically wounded.
Netanyahu’s bureau released a statement following the phone call, saying that the Israeli premier offered his Belgian counterpart assistance in the investigation.
Di Rupo, for his part, said that he was shocked by the attack, condemned anti-Semitism in all forms, and sent his condolences to the families of the victims.
Netanyahu, who earlier lashed out during the weekly cabinet meeting over the lack of European condemnation, thanked Di Rupo for the call. The prime minister told Di Rupo that he was the first European leader to contact him, and added that he was very concerned by the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe. A zero-tolerance policy must be taken against the phenomenon, he told Di Rupo.
At the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu told ministers: “There are elements in Europe who hasten to condemn every construction of an apartment in Jerusalem, but don’t hurry to condemn, or else meekly condemn, the murder of Jews,” Netanyahu told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
“We will stand up against this hypocrisy,” Netanyahu said, “We will protest it. We will continue to tell the truth incessantly, we will continue to fight terror and continue to fortify and build our state.”
Netanyahu’s lambasting of European leaders was not in fact accurate. Within an hour of the shooting, European foreign policy chief Catherin Ashton issued a condemnation and defined the attack as terrorist.
“I condemn unreservedly the dreadful attack today at the Jewish Museum in Brussels,” said Ashton. “I send my condolences to the families of the victims and express my solidarity with the Belgian authorities and the Jewish community. Everything possible must be done to find those who carried out this attack. There must be no impunity for terrorism.”
Belgian police were expected to release photos of a suspect in the shooting at Brussels’ Jewish Museum and are asking for the public’s help in identifying the person, a spokeswoman said Sunday.
“The perpetrator was probably alone, well prepared and armed,” the spokeswoman said.
The victims – two men and two women – were shot in the area of the face and throat, several media outlets reported. The hospitalized man was to be examined by a brain surgeon, the Belga news agency said.
The gunman first targeted the two tourists in the entrance of the building before shooting at an employee manning the reception and a female volunteer, the museum said on its website.
“At this stage, we have neither information, nor an explanation of the motives for this heinous act,” the museum noted in its statement, saying that “nothing foretold … the immense tragedy.”
Investigators have been examining whether Saturday’s attack was motivated by anti-Semitism. In Israel, the shooting is being described as a “terrorist attack.”
“This act of murder is the result of constant incitement against Jews and their state,” Netanyahu said in a statement released Saturday evening. “Slander and lies against the state of Israel continue to be heard on European soil.”
The European Jewish Congress (EJC) called for tougher anti-Semitism laws and enhanced security at Jewish institutions in Europe, pointing also to the deadly 2012 shooting of Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi in the French city of Toulouse.
Mohamed Merah, a petty criminal who converted to radical Islam in prison and travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan for terrorist training, claimed he was mandated by al-Qaida to carry out those attacks. He was shot dead by police in a raid.
“The EJC has been warning for over two years, since the murderous terror attack at the Jewish school in Toulouse, that such acts will continue if no additional resources are put into place to guarantee the security of our communities,” EJC President Moshe Kantor said.
“How many more deadly attacks at Jewish institutions does our community need to endure until European governments get serious with a climate of increasing hate towards Jews?” he added. “The time for words and platitudes is over.”
Security has been tightened at Jewish religious and cultural sites in the Belgian capital after the shooting, which occurred around 3:50P.M. in a busy area of central Brussels.
Police had detained one man on Saturday, but released him after determining that he was only a witness. Investigators were pursuing a lead that the suspect may have fled on foot, broadcaster RTFB reported. Authorities said that footage from nearby cameras was being examined.
“Everything is being done to identify and apprehend the perpetrator or perpetrators of this tragedy,” the Belgian government said in a statement on Saturday.
The Jewish Museum said it trusts the judiciary and the police “to find the culprit and shed light on this terrible tragedy.” A “reflection committee” will be created to discuss the museum’s security, it said. The institution plans to reopen on Tuesday.
The attack shocked Belgians a day before they were due to head to the polls for parliamentary and European elections. Concerns have been rife that the European vote will deliver gains for far-right parties in other European countries.
“That the attack seems to have been anti-Semitic and targeted at the Jewish museum makes this tragic act all the more disturbing,” Jean-Claude Juncker, a candidate running to be the next European Commission president, said in a statement.
“Religious intolerance has no place on our continent,” he added.
A candlelight vigil is due to be held in Brussels on Sunday evening. The “show of solidarity” will take place at 7 P.M. in the street where the museum is located, the Brussels parliamentarian Viviane Teitelbaum wrote on her Facebook page.