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French minister vows to defend Jews at Israel burial of 4 killed in Paris siege

Four victims of the attack at a kosher supermarket in Paris last week were buried on a hillside in Israel on Tuesday after a ceremony in which Israeli leaders urged their counterparts abroad to confront Islamist extremism and safeguard Jews in Europe.

About 2,000 mourners, many of them immigrants from France and young French Jews on study programs in Israel, gathered on a sunny wintry day to pay tribute to the four men killed in a hostage-taking assault Friday on a kosher market in eastern Paris, the final act in a bloody three days that began with the killing Wednesday of 12 people at the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

“This is not how we wanted to welcome you here in Israel,” said Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, facing the four bodies covered with Jewish prayer shawls. “This is not how we wanted to see you come home to the state of Israel and its capital, Jerusalem. We wanted you alive.”

The dead – Yohan Cohen, 20, Yoav Hattab, 22, Francois-Michel Saada, 64, and Phillipe Braham, 45 – were in the Hyper Cacher market when Amedy Coulibaly, who said he was a follower of the Islamic State, burst in and demanded that French police break off their siege of two brothers, Said and Cherif Kouachi, who’d been identified as the Charlie Hebdo killers. Coulibaly was killed when French police assaulted the store within minutes of a police assault north of Paris on the Kouachis.

Rivlin said the murder of Jews shopping on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath stirred “bad memories,” a reference to the Holocaust period, and he urged European leaders “to commit to firm measures to restore a sense of security and safety to the Jews of Europe.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who traveled to Paris on Sunday to participate with other leaders in a mass solidarity march, said that “most of them understand, or at least are starting to understand, that this terrorism of extremist Islam is a real and tangible threat to the peace of the world we live in.”

Segolene Royal, France’s minister of ecology, pledged that the French government would act with “unfailing determination” to fight “all forms and acts of anti-Semitism,” and she announced that the Jewish victims were being posthumously awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s highest decoration.

“The French Republic shares your loss,” she said. “Your pain is ours. Your pain is that of all of France.

“France without its Jewish community is not France.”

Her remarks drew some skeptical murmurs in the crowd, where several people said they did not believe the French authorities would muster the necessary resolve to confront violence by Muslim extremists.

Some people held up signs with a message inspired by the slogan that spread across the world in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack. “I am Charlie, I am Jewish, I am Israeli, I am French, I’m fed up,” the placards said. Another group held up signs with pictures of the victims under the words: “I am dead because I am Jewish.”

Repeating a controversial message he has delivered several times since the Paris attacks, Netanyahu said French Jews were welcome to emigrate to Israel. “Today more than ever Israel is the true home of all of us, and the greater our number and the more united we are in our land, the stronger we will be in our one and only country,” he said.

But Rivlin cautioned against encouraging Jews to flee. “The return to the homeland should not come from distress, from despair . . . from the moments of fear and terror,” he said. “The land of Israel is the land of choice. We want you to choose it out of love.”

Lighting the first of four torches in memory of the victims, Jonathan Saada, the son of one of those killed, recalled that his father “was in love with Israel, he really wanted to live here.”

“He is here now, and I am sure he is really happy to be with you here,” Saada said.

Valerie Braham, the widow of another victim, described her husband as a “perfect human being who thought of others before himself,” and she referred to a son the couple had buried in Israel several years ago.

“Today, he is with my son,” she said. “I am crying, but I know that you’re all crying with me, and I thank all of you.”